A Midsummer Night's Dream: Abridged on a Bridge

William Shakespeare, adapted by Lane Paul Stewart
Facing North Theatre and the National Trust
Castlefield Viaduct, Manchester

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A Midsummer Night's Dream: Abridged on a Bridge
A Midsummer Night's Dream: Abridged on a Bridge
A Midsummer Night's Dream: Abridged on a Bridge

Castlefield Viaduct is a facility which provokes conflicted feelings. It is fantastic that Manchester is the sort of city which can accommodate such a wonderfully eccentric concept as a derelict viaduct transformed into a 330-metre elevated park with trees, plants and flowers. The sky park is, however, operated by the sinister cult the National Trust, notorious for brainwashing people into believing stately homes are interesting. A Midsummer Night's Dream: Abridged on a Bridge offers the opportunity to visit the park while minimising the risk of indoctrination.

No effort is made to gentrify the park or disguise its industrial background. For one thing, every few minutes, a train rumbles past. The metalwork of the bridge is not only visible and marked by rust and graffiti, it is deliberately reflected in the furnishings of the sky park. Seating and borders have a metallic look, and a mission statement is chiselled into a metal plaque.

The theme of the sky park is the plants triumphing over the decaying industrial structure. The top part has a formalised design with flowerbeds and ponds, while the early sections, possibly a work in progress, are left to wildflowers. But even the more formal section contains plants which are rough and assertive—red-hot pokers, thistles and wild grasses. Poison Ivy, nemesis of The Batman, who maintained a weed is just a plant growing somewhere men consider inappropriate, would approve.

‘Abridged’ is certainly an accurate description of Lane Paul Stewart’s adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream. The characters Theseus and Hippolyta are dropped, as is the play-within-a-play by the rude mechanicals. The actors take on double roles, which may be confusing for those unfamiliar with the text, especially in a scene where a costume change necessitates two actors swapping a role.

The revisions to the text, while substantial, are not intended as a radical reinterpretation of the play but to achieve brevity. The subplots do not, as in the original, alternate but are dealt with separately. The young Athenian lovers strand is tied up before Titania’s fling with the transformed Bottom. As a result, there is no sense of time passing—Titania and Bottom, rather than spend the night together, part quickly and the lovers do not seem to be chased to the point of exhaustion by Puck. More significantly, a giddy, rushing sense of chaos does not develop despite the best efforts of the cast.

This is a brisk, no-nonsense production, cheerfully involving the audience in an occasional call and response, and shamelessly parochial. Lysander and Hermia are portrayed as ramblers heading towards Ancoats while belting out MacColl’s "The Manchester Rambler". Thomas Byrne’s Puck adopts the Manchester worker bee on his vest, while Louise McNulty acknowledges the setting of the play with symbols of nature on her costume.

A Midsummer Night's Dream: Abridged on a Bridge is a bright celebration of not just the summer months but also the unusual setting. Trigger warning: this production features Morris dancing.

Castlefield Viaduct is open for pre-booked guided visits 11AM–1PM every day except Wednesdays and after 1PM, open for walk-up visits without booking. Last entry is 3:30PM.

Reviewer: David Cunningham

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