A Midsummer Night's Dream

William Shakespeare
Lyric Hammersmith and Filter Theatre
Northcott, Exeter

If you like your Shakespeare in tights and big sleeves with posturing and soliloquies avoid Filter’s recreated A Midsummer Night’s Dream like the bubonic plague.

Irreverent, irrepressible and not at all irrelevant, Sean Holmes, once again, serves up a magical and musical riot to bewitch all ages and cement Shakespeare’s relevance firmly in the 21st century.

This is no fairy story: the perennial issues of love, jealousy, attraction, appearance and reality are dissected as interfering handyman Puck (Kayla Meikle) runs amok with magic potions and bursts through the fourth wall (somewhat literally) in the pursuit of mayhem.

The play within a play motif is central as Peter Quince (quick-thinking raconteur George Fouracres), an escapee from the Black Country, explains in a fun opening segment. His Mechanicals are fellow pigeon fanciers, musicians as well as actors, channelling their inner Jennifer Lawrence, fuelled by Petit Filous and aspiring to their ‘fly or die’ motto. But all seems lost when the acclaimed Oscar-winning guest gets stuck in the lift and refunds are for the asking. Luckily good sport Caroline Quentin was in the audience to audition even if she lost out to gobby Irish pipe player David Ganly for the prized part of Bottom.

Hyemi Shin's set is all very simple: hacked out archway and plain flies dominated by a grotty yellowing tiled urinal-evoking bath; props minimal with pop up tent and deck chairs central while costuming is everyday dress except Thisbe’s Barbara Cartland froth, the oh so sexy Titania (Allyson Ava-Brown)’s rip-off lace skirt… and Oberon (Harry Jardine). Think a sawn-off flying Chris Evans in lycra and silver invisibility cape clutching an inhaler.

There is inventive use of lining paper, shower gel, sound effects and video gaming; a psychotic Duke whose weapon of choice is slugs; moonshine provided by a headtorch, lager, star-struck engineers and a massive bun fight.

Liberties are taken with text, there is profanity and innuendo (of the ‘Enter Bottom is a stage direction’ ilk), slapstick, prologue à la Al Capone and so much fun. Accomplished musicians all, break out moments add backing track, accompany speeches or dissolves the tension ranging from doo-wop to rock to Barry Whitesque sexy. Tremendous.

Ideal for adolescent audiences, great fun for all ages. Would happily watch again.

Reviewer: Karen Bussell

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