Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Nottingham Playhouse, by Alan Geary
Everyone already knows Dream, and, including open-air productions, it comes round at least once a year. So you might expect each new undertaking to offer an original slant on the play, to have something fresh to say about it. But this offering, from director Rae McKen, seems to add nothing to our understanding or appreciation.
In an apparent effort to give the play a new angle we get a framing device; as it turns out, an entirely superfluous and half-hearted one.
The heart sinks when the play starts with a school bell: a bunch of unwilling yoofs complete with bored expressions, mobiles and down at heel uniforms are being kept back for detention. An enthusiastic teacher with green-framed glasses, a Mr Goodfellow, gets them to read A Midsummer Night's Dream. They begin as horribly as you'd expect. But the man in green glasses casts a spell and the reading transmogrifies into a straightforward rendition of the play. You soon forget about the school.
Except for a more than usual amount of doubling up and cutting – the fairies are nowhere to be seen and a lot of text is dropped – this is an orthodox account of the play. At the end there's hardly a nod to the long-forgotten framing device: the cast simply get back into down at heel school uniform for the curtain.
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Despite all these negative-sounding observations it's a highly enjoyable production. Acting is excellent in all cases, the choreography is outstanding, and the play within the play performed by Bottom and Co is done especially well. Shakespeare's text is properly delivered by everyone.
Hermia, played by Clare McMahon with a pleasant Ulster accent, and Rebecca Loudon's Helena are nicely contrasted. Loudon gives one of the most compelling performances of the evening. Their work in the woods with the male counterparts, Lysander (Daniel Francis-Swaby) and Demetrius (Naoufal Ousellam) – and this is where Angela Gasparetto's choreography comes in – is a clear highpoint of the play.
The most painful moment comes when Demetrius gets kicked where it matters, ironically by the woman he's intending to marry.
The play by the rude mechanicals is often anti-climactic and unfunny, but not here. Bottom, done by Lorenzo Martelli, also excellent as Egeus, is very funny. Martelli has a never over-done rapport with the audience.
The play is from Custom/Practice and TEG Productions in association with The Almeida Festival. A large, school-age audience loved it.
A Midsummer Night's Dream is at Nottingham Playhouse till Saturday, 2nd March