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4 stars out of 5
Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, Stafford Gatehouse
Written By Rebecca Wallis
When you think of Shakespeare and his productions being staged, you’d be forgiven for thinking of London or his hometown Stratford-Upon-Avon but let us take a step away from that. This isn’t Stratford, but instead Stafford, not far from Birmingham, which has been hosting the Stafford Shakespeare Festival for thirty years. Here, Sean Turner (The Play That Goes Wrong, The New Musketeers) directs the festival’s first indoor production, a retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that takes the story to Athens in the 1930’s, where young lovers enjoy the sun kissed beaches, seemingly unaware that they are being watched over by the fairy realm.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is perhaps one of Shakespeare’s most loved pieces; a playful romp of love and magic, mixed in with a love for the theatre itself. It’s a story of finding love with the right person as two pairs of young lovers struggle with the idea of arranged marriage, marrying for love, and loving someone who doesn’t love you back. With the addition of some fairies and a magical flower that can make anyone fall in love with the first being that they see with chaotic results, it’s a comedic adventure of magic and romance that is both captivating and utterly charming.
From the onset, the audience are transported to Athens, with fairy light covered trees and vines leading the way to the auditorium and the welcoming sight of a taverna upon the stage. We are introduced to the characters bit by bit, with the mischievous fairy Puck (played by Will Taylor) acting as the narrator of the piece, always observing, and playing a pivotal role in orchestrating the unfolding chaos under the leadership of Oberon, played by Dan Burton. We meet Theseus (Toby Webster) Duke of Athens and Hippolyta, newly engaged themselves, and the young fair Hermia (Milly Zero) whose father wishes her to marry Demetrius (James Bradwell) instead of her own love Lysander (Richard Logan). Helena, played by Noa Nikita Bleeker, loves Demetrius but does he love her? Time will tell.
The Mechanicals, a local theatre troupe, are preparing a performance for Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding party but between the over confidence of Nick Bottom, played by Jonathan Hyde (the general confusion of Flute, Snout and Starveling, played by Olivier Sublet, Daniel Copeland and Elaine Hua Jones, and the stage fright of Snug (Megan Marszal), they don’t really know what they are doing, leaving everything in the hands of the overstretched Quince (Amy Revelle).
The show really takes off when we are taken away from the beaches of Athens to the forest, home to the fairy realm, where Oberon and Titania (played by Kerry Ellis) argue over the fate of a foundling child. Oberon shares his plan to get revenge on Titania by sending his fairy servant Puck to gather a magical flower that will make her fall in love with the next creature she sees, therefore interfering with the path of true love. Fairies Peaseblossom and Cobweb, played by Lucinda Freeburn and Sam Lightfoot-Loftus, captivate the audience with sleight of hand and the very slick transformation of Anna Phillips’ set kick starts the action.
Whilst this production stays true to the original Shakespearian language, the style of the show littered with physical comedy and knowing glances allows the audience to follow along. It can be tricky to make Shakespeare accessible but this show manages it, with young and old in the audience hanging on every word.
Dan Burton and Kerry Ellis command the stage as Oberon and Titania, magical beings with the power to change the lives of those around them, whilst Toby Webster’s Theseus the Duke oozes class and Jonathan Hyde’s Nick Bottom earns many a laugh as he tries to play every part in the Mechanical’s production, much to the annoyance of his cast mates.
Will Taylor’s Puck is cheeky and lovable, delighting in the chaos he causes with a grin and a cheerful ‘ta-da!’. He displays a natural flair for comedy as he bounces around the action, always there at just the right moment to steer the story in a different direction. There is a childlike joy in everything that Puck does, revelling in his own magic and the mischief he can cause by simply trying to follow Oberon’s instructions.
Zero, Bradwell, Logan and Bleeker play the young lovers, each with a clear understanding of the passion their characters hold, both in romance and in friendship as they stumble through the dream-like state that the magic induces upon them.
If there is one point where this production stumbles slightly, it lies in the pace of the piece. Act One runs at a lengthy 80 minutes (roughly), whilst Act 2 is much shorter at around 45 minutes. A vast amount of the story is covered and to a point resolved in that first act, leaving the second act mostly dedicated to the Mechanicals and their play. Whilst this is very entertaining and provides many a laugh, there could have been a more even split there perhaps.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a magical, mystical introduction to Shakespeare, filled with love and laughter, performed with style. The audience are captivated by the wonder and delighted by the comedy, drawn into the stories of love and adventure before leaving the theatre with a smile on their faces.