Will Felton has directed a buoyant and fresh production that engaged the audience from start to finish. With only a few wooden crates as set, the cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream transformed a quad at Brasenose into a theatre of trickery and magic, singing and playing us into industrial Bradford where the unimaginable collided with the tangibly real. The concept itself was clever, but its execution was too low-key. Bradford accents of varying quality appeared in several characters, without enough explanation of the choice to leave others’ untouched. However, costume by Alex Wickens, including the use of hessian sacks for the mechanicals and a steampunk aesthetic for the fairies, supported the concept in providing a strong and exciting visual base. The production was ultimately more successful in its comedy, perhaps lacking the same energy in moments of tension and depth, but never failed to entertain and to find the humour in Shakespeare’s familiar words.
Some of the best performances came from the smaller parts; Alex Wickens delightfully complimented the other Mechanicals with a less forthcoming yet equally brilliant portrayal of Starveling the taylor, while James Mooney perfectly embodied the humble and warm-hearted Peter Quince. A special mention must be made for Madeleine Walker as a hilarious Philostrate, who nearly commanded the audience’s full attention during the Mechanicals’ disastrous play despite her background role, and who had turned the part into something truly memorable. Ali Porteous delivered a wonderfully fresh Puck, cutting no corners in his portrayal of a mad and fiery spirit obsessed with mischief – however, at times it felt like he and Oberon (Christian Bevan) had followed slightly different interpretations of their relationship, leading to a feeling of disparity in their scenes. The position of MSND’s women is difficult to navigate, and I enjoyed directorial choices to inject sparks into Hippolyta’s personality (played by Misha Pinnington) and to provide some substance to the relationship between Demetrius and Helena, in the form of Helena’s shameless sexuality (played by Heloise Lowenthal).
A Midsummer Night’s Dream relies on the interplay between the three worlds of the mortal lovers, the fairies and the Mechanicals, but the energy of each varied. The fairies, who are perhaps given the most scope for wilder performances, fell flat at many points. Walker and Pinnington’s physicality was impressive as Cobweb and Moth respectively, but Oberon and Titania’s sections lacked the fire and chemistry integral to their tumultuous relationship. The pace of some of the monologues and scenes interrupted the flow of the production, and their final dance was somewhat too safe to convince us of their otherworldly danger and power. The Mechanicals and the lovers clearly had excellent chemistry as groups, and this was carried into the final collision of worlds as Lysander and Demetrius (Cassian Bilton and Calam Lynch) shed tears at the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe, which was wonderfully executed by the group, featuring hilarious performances by Tommy Siman as Bottom, Isaac Calvin as Flute, and Nihls Behling as the famous ‘wall’.
This is definitely a production worth catching: a distinctive and original re-imagining of a timeless play. Its merits outweighed its faults, and with improvement in chemistry and energy, some of which will develop naturally over the course of the run, it has the potential to be truly stunning.