Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Mark Leipacher
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
It been almost two years since The Faction last staged a Shakespeare adaptation in London, taking their innovative approach to Much Ado About Nothing into Selfridges department store. Before that an extended residency at the New Diorama Theatre offered exciting new versions of Romeo and Juliet as well as a Richard III that put some of the bigger star vehicles to shame. With a reputation for revitalising well-known plays their new version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a must see.
As the play begins two unwilling brides-to-be Queen Hippolyta and Hermia are forced to marry men they do not want. With a choice of death or eternal singledom, Hermia chooses to flee into the forest with her true love Lysander, soon pursued by Demetrius her proposed groom, who in turn is chased by Hermia’s friend Helena who loves him. As a group of local artisans prepare some amateur theatre for the wedding celebrations, both groups soon find themselves unwittingly embroiled in a war of the fairies.
As much an indicator of summer as Pimms and Wimbledon, every summer, probably for the last 400 years, has seen countless versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dreamenacted, so the thought of seeing yet another may fill you with despair. But once again The Faction have taken an overly familiar piece and used the text to slightly shift our perception, delivering a two-hour production that mixes a slightly eerie quality with moments of high comedy and their trademark use of human sculpture to cleverly convey key aspects of the story.
While most interpretations favour the lovers and the fairies, Director Mark Leipacher gives almost equal stage-time to all three of the play’s elements. Partly, this is achieved by using the same seven actors in most of the roles, allowing Leipacher to switch from lovers to fairies to rude mechanicals with just a change of lighting. The conceit works brilliantly, maintaining a nice pace for the show, while trusting the audience to recognise that the actors are now completely different characters.
In Eleanor Field’s simple design, there’s not a flower or tuft of foliage in sight, instead the wonderful Company us the text to make the various scenarios and locations convincing. Some of the best scenes allow us to see the play in a different way, so while Laura Evelyn’s Helena and Lowri Izzard’s Hermia argue, their enchanted lovers almost steal the show with unspoken gestures, looks and physical grappling that becomes one of the productions most hysterical scenes. Likewise, the players can often be a broad distraction, but reimaging Bottom as an exuberant luvvie dominating a group of nervy amateurs breathes new life into these sections and ends the evening with one of the most hilarious and cheeky interpretations of the Pyramus and Thisbe play-within-a-play that you’ll ever seen.
All of The Faction’s earlier productions reveal a respect for and ease with the text that suits their ensemble approach to playmaking. The ever-enjoyable Christopher York, a memorable Richard III, is an exasperated Demetrius, forever trying to shake Helena’s pursuit, but York breaks away from the usual modest lover to make Demetrius a man of the world, implying he doesn’t trust himself alone with her for the night while still pursuing Hermia. York contrasts this with Snout, a permanently anxious member of the players whose role as the Wall in the final scene is some shrewdly managed comedy delivered with a remarkable straight face.
Another Faction regular, Christopher Hughes, gives a broad but controlled performance as Bottom, who wants to play every role. The creation of the ass’s head using members of the Company in several different arrangements around Hughes is thoughtful and smart, while Hughes has a hilariously long and hammy death scene as Pyramus that ends the show on a high.
Lowri Izzard is a tough and persistent Hermia, while Laura Evelyn has great comic timing as Helena and Lion. Jeremy Ang Jones has little to do as Lysander but makes for a very funny Thisbe, and Herb Cuanalo and Tamarin McGinley are suitably regal as Oberon and Titania. After recruiting Caroline Langrishe to their Much Ado, here Linda Marlowe plays Puck in a backwards baseball cap and Eastenders accent, but it’s the younger cast you really focus on.
The tone of this A Midsummer Night’s Dreampitches nicely between dark and light, not too sinister or romantic, but just unnerving enough to make the supernatural elements convincing and concerning, leaving you to hope that Macbeth might be their next project – after recent poor attempts maybe The Faction can deliver a successful version. In the large Wiltons space, the cast occasional gabble or become too shrill for the all the lines to properly reach the audience, but this is no pleasant romp through the woods. A fresh and fun take on a well-worn play, and a warm welcome back to The Faction.
Runs until: 30 June 2018 | Image: The Other Richard