Northern Stage – A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The dreaming lovers

Northern Stage’s production of the RSC’s A Midsummer Nights’ Dream mixes well practised theatrical formulas with a new cocktail of local input to create a unique version of Shakespeare’s best loved story of love, comedy and magic.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream does tend to be an awful lot of people’s favourite Shakespeare play (if it’s not Macbeth, that is) as it is studied in schools across the land and is seen as one of his most accessible works. This new version, directed by Erica Whyman, Deputy Artistic Director of the RSC (and former Director of Northern Stage) is a true experiment, in that the sections of the play which feature the Mechanicals (Bottom, Quince, Snug, et al) are played by amateur actors from local companies who are based in each town on the tour. Our own People’s Theatre in Newcastle were involved in this production and apparently groups up and down the country have been rehearsing via Skype for months!

Ill met by moonlight

The production seemed to be set in the 1940’s because it was ‘a place of great change.’ I’m not entirely sure the austerity of this period in history, particularly costume wise, made up for the gorgeous possibilities of ancient Athens and magical woodland fairy frolics, but I was prepared to suspend disbelief as one has to do for any theatrical experience to be authentic.
Lucy Ellinson’s Puck was the outstanding performance for me, conveying the elfin mischief of the meddling Robin Goodfellow with great physicality and a huge pair of expressive eyes underneath a large top hat and substantial orange quiff, which could have been real, but probably wasn’t. The stage lit up every time she appeared.

Neat Spirit

My other favourite performance was the nervous boy scout geek-chic portrayal of Lysander, by Jack Holden. All nervous energy and larger than life gestures, I did find him very amusing. He wore his fair isle tank top well – a piece of clothing I always find inexplicably attractive. It is a very physical performance reminiscent of a young Michael Crawford as Frank Spencer in ‘Some Mother’s Do ‘ave ’em,’ and in the scene where he has a contra temps with Demetrius and he goes skidding across the floor on his stomach in a flying tackle was a highlight for me.

True love never runs smooth..

Ayesha Dharker was a lush, exotic Titania in a gorgeous red dress and I did enjoy the visual effect of her falling asleep in a piano. Unfortunately I did keep getting flashbacks of her as Dev’s girlfriend in Coronation Street, and she also sounded exactly the same, which did interfere with believing in her as a the Queen of the Fairies just a little bit. It’s always a  bit of a double edged sword having well known faces in parts and the actors need to work extra hard to overcome that I think.

Titania time

Production values are obviously always high with the RSC and live music, in a production so much about love and mischief and magic it is always a welcome addition.
The comic sections with the Mechanicals in many ways are the easiest bits of the play, and are pretty hard to get wrong. We had a daft Geordie Bottom and a group of older rather ‘lived in’ looking tradesmen who contrasted with the much young and better looking characters. Maybe a bit of stereotyping there, but they acquitted themselves well. I liked Thisby’s prolonged death scene which I’m sure will continue to get longer as the run goes on.

Mission Mischevious

It is hard to do something original with Shakespeare. I’ve seen Romeo and Juliet on motorbikes and Henry V in real rain looking for his horse, but sometimes you just want a bit of good old fashioned fun.
Using different groups of amateur actors in different venues is, without doubt, an ambitious undertaking, and I can’t pretend that I wouldn’t like to see how other groups insert their various versions into the framework of the play, because I would! So this is something original to see and when push comes to shove ‘the course of true love never did run smooth.’ In a world infiltrated by text speak and obsession with reality TV, you cannot beat a bit of the bard.

I love Shakespeare!

Cast Photos by Topher McGillis