Sheffield People's Theatre
In this community theatre production, the plot of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is shoe-horned into an NHS setting. Indeed, into Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital with its lifts and arrows pointing to wards with which the audience will be familiar.
Hippolyta turns up at A&E in a wheelchair and it is her ‘dream’ we are witnessing. She is not much in evidence after that. But it is possible to identify the lovers, Lysander admitted after a leg injury caused by falling off his bike after Egeus takes a pot shot at him and Helena making desperate mobile 'phone calls to Demetrius, which he rejects.
Meanwhile, the Fairy King and Queen are represented by two banal and rather unattractive doctors in competition for the attentions of an Indian trainee and phials of medicine taken from the hospital dispensary advance the plot but lack the magic of Oberon’s flower.
Bottom, an unpleasantly irrepressible Artist in Residence, draws together some reluctant patients for a re-working of the Mechanicals’ play which includes a character called Curtain, a close relative of Wall in the original.
Writer Chris Bush has imposed a whole new set of characters drawn from the hospital context onto the already quite complicated plot of Shakespeare’s play. Additionally, he has added characters from other Shakespearean comedies like Much Ado About Nothing and The Tempest and lards the writing with quotation and reference from an even wider range of plays. This is often confusing.
The play also includes topical reference. A hospital cleaner, a recent immigrant, purports to be a survivor of a boat accident in which her brother has drowned. This summons up recent painful images of suffering refugees but it transpires that this relates to Twelfth Night, with Viola lamenting the loss of Sebastian.
Writer Chris Bush has drawn together a cast of over 100 participants from the local community for this production. There is no doubting their commitment, enthusiasm and enjoyment of the experience.
Director Emily Hutchinson has harnessed the energy of this large cast in energetic song and dance sequences to the music of composer Russell Hepplewhite. There is also opportunity for lively action and slapstick sequences although the play is rather wordy.
Kevin Jenkins’s set provides a solid and convincing background to the action with its many scene changes and pushing on and off of hospital beds. A moment of magic is provided when a large illuminated phial container rises from the stage floor. The final sequence compiled of video recordings made by a visiting ‘film crew’ is a paeon in praise of the NHS.
An audience of family and friends received the performance with enthusiasm.
Reviewer: Velda Harris