Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Scott Bellas
Designer: Sam Curwen
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
In Northern Spark Theatre and Bite My Thumb’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream we are promised a late 1960s staging, complete with comedy, sensuality and physicality. The period is potentially an excellent fit with Shakespeare’s most druggy play, but the match-up works intermittently, though, pleasingly, much more frequently as the evening progresses.
There is very little tinkering with the text – and what there is is fully justified. A 14-strong cast means minimal doubling, though Titania’s fairies are a depleted troupe, played in their spare time by two credited (plus one uncredited) Rude Mechanicals. Switching the gender of Egeus (Egea), Peter Quince (Rita – neat rhyme!), Snug and Snout works well and cuts are made unobtrusively.
The evening begins, unfortunately, with a decidedly odd Theseus and Hippolyta. He, stolid and drably dressed, she downright peculiar, given to physical attacks and obscene gestures – in Act 5 she takes to the bottle (or the hip flask). Things improve. The entry of the Rude Mechanicals for their rehearsal hits the right note with their version of When I’m 64, then the hippy feel Scott Bellas is seeking emerges with the Fairy King and Queen. Fiona Egan’s Titania presides over a drugged up court (Sophia Becic pitch perfect as a quietly stoned Peaseblossom) and Simon Reece, despite an anything but regal costume as Oberon, carries real authority and finds much of the magic in the verse. Angela Clare delights as Puck. With a genuine sense of comedy, she emerges as a Dennis the Menace figure, expressive and mischievous, putting a girdle round the earth on her kiddy cycle.
Throughout this is a difficult production to generalise about. The promised inclusion of favourite songs from the 1960s barely materialises, but the use of the Monkees’ I’m a Believer in place of the final Bergomask is beautifully done – a witty routine for all the cast.
The best of the Rude Mechanicals’ scenes comes at the end – nothing unusual in that, but it is particularly striking in this production. The characters are cannily differentiated – a camp Robin Starveling (Reece Andrews) is a neat idea – but the early scenes could be funnier. A hectoring Quince misses much of the humour of the part, though Olivia Cole hectors very well, and Neil Knipe is a surprisingly restrained Bottom. All comes good in the final performance of Pyramus and Thisbe, one of the guaranteed laugh-out-loud scenes in Shakespeare. The great achievement of Bellas and the cast is to find so many good gags that have not already become regulars in this scene, plus a few that have.
Beccie Allen (Helena) and Leanne O’Rourke (Hermia) give vivid characterisations and interact well, though it’s odd to cast a Hermia slightly taller than Helena and then retain the extended “painted maypole” series of insults. Finn Ella (Lysander) and Kamran Mohammed (Demetrius) are less strongly characterised, but pleasingly youthful, and all four play their part in a splendidly choreographed quarrel/fight scene, one of the times when the promise of physical theatre is happily fulfilled.
Touring Regionally | Image: Contributed