ComedyDramaLondonReviewWest End

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Leicester Square Theatre, London

Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Lewis Ironside
Reviewer: Daniel Perks

The Shakespeare 400 consortium is continuing mark the anniversary of his death by bringing the great work of the Bard to audiences across London (indeed across the country). In other news, Magnificent Bastard Productions Ltd are paying their own tribute to the playwright at Leicester Square Theatre by getting one of their members drunk (nay, shit-faced) only hours before they star in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The trademark of Shit-Faced Shakespeare rears its inebriated head once more.

For those not familiar with this particular company, the premise is fairly self-explanatory. In this particular show, Lysander (Saul Marron) is taken to the pub beforehand and slowly fed half a litre of vodka and juice topped off with a couple of cans of non-British beer and an Archers Woo-Woo. As it this isn’t enough compère and director Lewis Ironside gives the audience power over the gong and the horn, which when sounded at one point throughout the performance enforce Marron to drink again and eliminate any risk that he may unintentionally sober up. Of course health &safety is of the utmost importance, so a third member of the audience is given a bucket just in case anyone gets a bit over-excited…

As the show only runs for about 70 minutes, the plot for this particular Shakespeare classic is somewhat abridged. Gone is the fairy king Oberon and his queen Titania; gone are the Athenian royalty Theseus and Hippolyta; gone are the acting troupe, with the exception of Bottom who is plucked from the audience for an interactive moment with Puck (Rob Smythson). This version is centred on the four lovers – Lysander (Marron) and Hermia (Beth-Louise Priestley) elope into the forest and are pursued by Demetrius (John Mitton) and Helena (Stacey Norris). A wise decision to cut down the plot since Marron’s drunken antics definitely serve to fill up the majority of the time. Mouthing the other actors’ lines, chatting with the audience (a.k.a the “woodland foxes”) and becoming physically overfamiliar with the cast are all classic signs of a drunk attempting to be sober at work. The remaining cast members do all they can to keep the performance on track but are often forced to deftly ad lib and at times compensate for Marron’s activities. Does this excuse them for overplaying their roles in a somewhat pantomime fashion?

This is not a play that promises layers of subtlety. But once compère Ironside outlines this to the audience, it isn’t difficult to get on board and relax into the spirit of the show. Indeed everyone throws all of themselves into the performance, so much so that a drunken Marron cuts himself mid-speech and spends the remainder of the monologue wailing about a bloody knee. As Demetrius, Mitton plays particularly well against Marron despite Marron’s drunken sexual advances and his active delight in Mitton’s Jesus-like appearance. The sword fight is a particular highlight when, continuing to preserve the actors’ health and safety, Ironside swaps out the less focussed Marron’s sword with a neon gymnastics ribbon. Priestley and Norris likewise provide a good anchor to ground the performance and keep the more inebriated of the quartet on the somewhat straight and narrow. For the most part however the production is one step away from pantomime; a cameo from Widow Twanky or Buttons and the obligatory “Oh no, he isn’t!” “Oh yes he is!” chanting would not feel out of place. Alex Stevenson’s gaudy and somewhat flimsy set design doesn’t serve to help this, with mock fabric Greek pillars that blow back and forth when the smoke machine is on.

For the last six years Magnificent Bastard Productions have consumed over 20,000 units of alcohol in their quest for Shit-Face Shakespeare stardom. How they all still how functioning livers is anyone’s guess. But there is a place for this adult-sized pantomime on a snowy weekday evening – if they are getting completely blotted, why shouldn’t the audience do too?

Runs until 11 June 2016 |Image: Rah Petherbridge Photography



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