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A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation – Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Erica Whyman

Reviewer: Bethaney Rimmer

This play for the nation is part of the RSC’s programme of events to mark the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death and across its run, at the RST and throughout the UK, sees professional actors tread the boards with amateur dramatic societies as the Mechanicals and local school children as part of Titania’s fairy train. For the press night performance, it was Wyre Forest’s The Nonentities turn and while one may anticipate that the am dram groups might well be overshadowed by the pros this group did, in fact, steal the show.

Set in an enchanted forest, ruled by feuding fairy royalty Oberon and Titania four lovers – Hermia, Lysander, Helena and Demetrius – find themselves the victims of magical meddling as the mischievous Puck makes one of the young humans fall in love with the wrong girl. Confusion and fumbling fisticuffs ensue- after all, “the course of true love never did run smooth”- but it all turns out alright in the end. Meanwhile, the Mechanicals are organising their play within a play, but even they are not immune to the mystical mayhem and one member soon ends up part of the commotion.

Director Erica Whyman, also Deputy Artistic Director of the RSC, has set her dream in 1940’s Britain and Tom Piper’s war-torn brick background is pushed to the back to make room for rose petals, red drapes and twinkling lights for the final scene which are very effective with school children dressed as evacuees with smatterings of multi-coloured dust on their clothes intended to signify hope and new beginnings. While their rôle is fairly small, it is brilliant to see local children have the opportunity to perform on such a renowned stage; they certainly appear well rehearsed and not at all phased by their endeavour, although the short lullaby dance sequence could perhaps do with a little bit more fine tuning.

If the audience were not informed that the Mechanicals are portrayed by an amateur dramatic group, the majority would probably not be able to pick out who has had training and who has not. They all portray the incompetent actors with proficiency and great comic timing, especially as successfully playing a bad actor is not an easy task, and the performance of the play within a play in the final scene is worth the wait. Having said that, the kissing through the wall gag is not as funny as in other adaptations.

Lucy Ellinson stands out as Puck with cheeky quips and brilliant facial expressions. Her interactions with the audience are hit (fumbling along a row of the audience to signify moving through the forest is amusing) and miss (mouthing “call me” to an audience member is a little too far in the direction of pantomime). Jack Holden and Chris Nayak have a particularly memorable scene when they both fight for Helena’s affection; their comical fight is brilliantly choreographed and especially funny when Mercy Ojelade’s Hermia and Laura Riseborough’s Helena are also dragged into it. Holden and Nayak have other physically comical moments throughout the play – Lysander storming off with a backpack bouncing up and down on his back springs to mind – but overall their squabble over Helena is perhaps the best part of any interaction between the lovers; some of their speeches tend to go on for a bit too long and as such it’s not always easy to stay focused on what they’re saying.

The two regal couples, Oberon/Titania (Chu Omambala and Ayesha Dharker) and Theseus/Hippolyta (Sam Redford &Laura Harding) are strongly performed, as are the supporting characters. While Omambala and Dharker have an air of the ethereal, the fairy scenes aren’t quite as magical as perhaps they could be, but the jazz interludes performed live by musicians at the side of the stage add some sizzle.

This is a smooth and entertaining adaptation, and the power of love and the effect it can have on a person, or even a fairy, is very well demonstrated. The short but fun company dance number at the end will certainly have you exiting the theatre with lifted spirits.

Runs until 5 March 2016 and on tour | Image: Topher McGrillis

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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