A Midsummer Night's Dream

Music by Mendelssohn and Brahms
Northern Ballet Theatre
Palace Theatre, Manchester, and touring
(2007)

Poster image

The original Northern Ballet Theatre production of A Midsummer Night's Dream was nominated for the Olivier Award for best new dance when it ran at Sadler's Wells in 2005. It's not difficult to see why in this splendid revival playing at the Palace Theatre in Manchester.

Inspired by the Shakespeare play this version is set in a Ballet Company as it travels to Edinburgh on a train sometime in the late 1940s. The members of the company then become transformed into the characters in a Fairyland sequence when all goes to show that " the course of true love never did run smooth ".

Theseus in this piece is the Artistic Director of the Ballet Company. He is danced by Hironao Takahashi. He shows great dignity and poise and then releases much energy as Oberon King of the Faeries.. Hippolyta is his Prima Ballerina. She is beautifully realised by Keiko Amemori who made a memorable Madame Butterfly some years ago with the Northern Ballet. She again demonstrates her grace and balletic depth both as Hippolyta and then when transformed into Oberon's Queen Titania. Their quarrel and her threat to leave the company is the catalyst which propels the action forward. The two pairs of lovers who fall in and out of love with amusing results are the other Principal Dancers in the company.

Lysander and Hermia are an item but Demetrius also loves Hermia. However he hates Helena who happens to love him. This leads to much comedy as characters try to get close to one another and are spurned in clever and athletically breathtaking dance steps.

The transformation scenes are skilfully done. The rehearsal room morphs into the Flying Scotsman train and then the various carriages process into the tunnel at the back of the stage. A theatrical sprinkling of glitter heralds Theseus' dream which takes us into Fairyland.

There is a real attention to 40's period detail in this show which is very satisfying. The hairstyles are just right and the cut of skirts and suits is accurate and pleasing. The dying age of steam railways is brilliantly evoked, as are the sleeper cars which lead to much toing and froing. When we arrive in Fairyland the fairies are ethereally dressed in hues of red and blue and their wings flutter as they dance. The males in the corps de ballet wear a sort of grass skirt and bodice which accentuates their physicality as they move. The lovers are dressed in very skimpy and sexually provocative shorts and slips. This fits with the sensual story that they are telling and the passionate couplings which arbitrarily change according to the whim of King Oberon's servant Puck.

There is much delicious comic business. Such as the Assistant Stage Manager dropping her notes and the entire sequence where Bottom is transformed into an Ass and hee-haws as he cavorts with a bewitched Titania. And in a great cameo role as the camp and moody Wardrobe Manager Steven Wheeler manages to steal every scene he is in.

This production is great fun from start to finish. Pippa Moore, who created the role of Helena, and Georgina May as Hermia are alternately feisty and passive. Helena gets a particularly raw deal as one moment she is unloved and then suddenly she is the object of two men's lust. Kenneth Tindall and Christopher Hinton-Lewis as Lysander and Demetrius display a good balance between energetic support and comic timing. All four lovers show great skill at eliciting the laughs from the audience.

Victoria Sibson is the Ballet Master who is transformed into the mischievous spirit Puck. She is restrained and controlling as the Ballet Master and then leaps joyously around the stage as Puck causing pandemonium to the lovers as she messes with their affections with her potion.

Darren Goldsmith is inspired as Nick Bottom. He is just that bit too enthusiastic and suffers for it when he is transformed into the Ass in the Fairyland act.

The music is carefully chosen extracts from various works by Mendelsohn including the Midsummer Night's Dream Suite and also some judiciously selected pieces of Brahms. The Northern Ballet Orchestra under the baton of maestro John Pryce Jones acquit themselves very well.

The only minor note of criticism was that the denouement was a little drawn out but this was more than compensated for by the gusto with which the entire company performed the heavily 40s influenced jitterbugs.

The settings by Duncan Hayler were excellent and the various tableaux showed these off to great effect. For example when the train is suspended in the air as are the beds in front of a giant eye to represent the dreaming state into which Theseus has fallen.

This production demonstrates once again why the Northern Ballet Theatre is so well regarded and is another triumph for Artistic Director David Nixon and his Co-Director Patricia Doyle.

Reviewer: Andrew Edwards