You might have seen it done in another theatre. You might have studied it, just read it, or seen a movie adaptation of it. But if you were one of the lucky ones in the audience of Nikki Lockwood’s stunning adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream last week, you had never before seen it quite like that.
The perhaps confusing but incredibly funny Shakespearean narrative was beautifully and clearly presented by the stellar cast (aided by the synopsis in the programme, meant for young ones but to the relief of a certain Teacher of Business Studies sat next to me!). A group of four lovers, to escape the harsh Athenian law, run into the forest and are met there by ‘rude Mechanicals’ producing a play, as well as Puck (a ‘knavish sprite’), his fairy King and Queen and their attendants. In this production music, costume, set and perfectly cast actors moulded together to create a world of mystery, intrigue and hilarious misunderstanding.
The interweaving storylines in A Midsummer Night’s Dream give ample opportunity for a cast as talented as this to demonstrate a variety of strengths; Nikki Lockwood is evidently a director ‘of no common rate’ and gave each group room to shine in their own way. The lovers showed how desperate love can make us: Izzie Simpkin’s Helena reduced the audience to hysterics crawling about after haughty Demetrius (Alex Livingstone) ‘as a spaniel’, and a self-assured Hermia (Scarlett Rudd) begged for the return of her Lysander’s affection, played by the understated and brilliant Tom Taylor. There’s often a temptation to caricature the lovers, especially Helena who in other productions has been too whiny – but this was completely avoided and each character was rendered truthfully by this immensely talented foursome. The fairies were utterly enchanting – Grace Lent evoked plenty of laughs as a clumsy Puck, in the service of an intense and dominating Oberon (Ollie Clark). The object of their cruel jest was Tilda Martin’s sensual Titania, whose stage presence was incredible. Her adoration of Freddie Bank’s Bottom sparked disbelief in the playful fairies, who had the unenviable task of being onstage throughout the show and never once let up in their focus. The Mechanicals provided light relief with great gusto – it’s so challenging to be that overtly characterised yet every actor, from the illustrious Bottom to mousey Snug (Olivia Al Marzook), gave dedicated performances that captured the audiences’ hearts. All the stories were held together by the dignified court (Alex Clark, Ellie Sutherland and Finn Johnston) and furious Egeus (Max Hager) – Nikki Lockwood truly brought out the best in all her cast.
A creative addition to Shakespeare’s text was that of swing and jazz music, skilfully arranged and often beautifully performed by Rosie Peters, with the support of Harrison White on the double bass. The Mechanicals sho-bop-bopped their way across the stage, and even the fairies joined in by manipulating dancing rabbits, adding to the fun and warmth of this audience-friendly piece of theatre.
The performances were supported by Mark Jenkins’ and Nikki Lockwood’s astounding set: who, walking into the Speech Hall, would ever have thought it could look like that? Four imposing towers flanked the corners of a square stage space covered in bark shavings – camouflage netting (or similar – forgive this reviewer’s ignorance) adorned the towers, and fairy lights hung between them to cast a magical glow on the roaming fairies beneath. And who could forget the ropes, used by the lovers in their fierce fight and by Puck as he moved about his master’s fairy kingdom – or the lovely bed, lowered from the rafters for a certain ‘Earth Angel’? An impressive design confidently explored by the actors, who seemed very at home in their performance space. Technical elements expertly supported the onstage action, and the aesthetic was completed by outstanding costumes; these were created by Hannah Mason, and confirmed the vision for and execution of this production as truly unique. This reviewer would very much like to know where all those amazing animal head-dresses have got to – especially Oberon’s antlers! In short, A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a triumph, perhaps I should have simply stated Hermia’s words: ‘I am amazed, and know not what to say.’