Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Erica Whyman
Reviewer: Jess Rowe
As part of the celebration into 400 years of Shakespeare, the RSC’s touring production of one of Shakespeare’s most known plays brings a sense of community as well as renowned comedy to the stage.
With the fitting theme of celebration looming, it follows the planning of the marriage celebration of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta. With the spread of love continuing, Hermia’s love for Lysander makes her disobey her father’s wishes to marry Demetrius and the pair decide to elope. All the while, Helena is madly in love with Demetrius as the four set out into the nearby forest filled with mischief and the supernatural of the night meddling in the feelings of the four lovers.
Though Shakespeare’s setting refers to that of the dukedom of Athens, Whyman’s direction portrays a spin on 1940’s England, a time like Athens of great change, making it so suitable for the production. Tom Piper’s opening set of an archaic backdrop of ruined building and a poignant red drape upon the side of the stage and a piano featuring centre stage that is beautifully placed around the stage at the command of the actor stage hands. Similarly, the manipulation of set by moving doors in place for actors to enter from magically appearing from the sides enhanced the idea of a liminal atmosphere. The transitions between setting is precise and fluid, with sudden drops of red drapes to symbolise tree trunks in the forest environment and sandbags to remind us the theme of theatre within the piece.
With a cast full of passion, it is understandable how our love for Shakespeare is still relevant. Lucy Ellison portrays a prime example of this with her interpretation of the character Puck. She carries out the strongest energy making her deliverance of every line both vibrant and eccentric allowing her to interact with the audience in a Brecht/ Epic Theatre fashion even to the extent of climbing upon the audience to make Puck’s way to the ‘forest’.
The sense of community is truly emphasised in the casting, with The Court and Forest characters being professionally trained actors; the casting of The Mechanicals, including the demanding part of Bottom played by Peter Collett, was selected from the local Carnon Downs Dramatic Group. Nevertheless, the quality of The Mechanicals is superb and the group steal the show in the second act in their hilarious rendition of The Tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe. Not only this, the recruitment of a child chorus of fairies adds to the magic with strong actions, vocals and even a number of lines between them more than fills the piece.
The comedy does not fail to shine with the obvious appalling play of the tradesmen but also within the main plot. The cast as a whole are unforgettable for their physicality and well-rehearsed movements but shows off obviously in the captivating choreographed ‘fight’ scene between Lysander and Demetrius, with the element of comedy adding to the hilarity of the misconceptions.
It goes without saying that the highlight is the actor-musicians who are both involved with the plot and the tale to the audience but build a party atmosphere when sitting on the sides of the stage providing a soundtrack of glorious quality.
With productions like this one, exploring the lighthearted themes of the piece, it goes to show that Shakespeare is timeless, even 400 years on.
Runs until 14 May 2016 | Image: Contributed