Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

A Midsummer Night's Dream

William Shakespeare and Simon Evans
Go People
Southwark Playhouse

Lucy Eaton and Freddie Fox Credit: Harry Grindrod
Suzie Preece Freddie Hutchins and Freddie Fox Credit: Harry Grindrod
Ludovic Hughes Credit: Harry Grindrod

Directors toy with the genius of William Shakespeare at their peril. When it goes wrong, they will inevitably get savaged by critics and, quite possibly, those members of the public who have enjoyed a long love affair with the Bard.

However, his work is timeless and those like Simon Evans, who are sensitive to the themes and rhythms of plays such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, can create pieces that will appeal to modern audiences but retain the spirit, language and joie de vivre of the original.

Adventurous young company Go People has put together a cast of only seven, each of whom is obliged to run madly around as all but one of them double roles in an attempt to entrance the audience for the best part of two hours.

Some characters are missing and others borrow lines as a result. The cut-down ethos extends with a dearth of props and costumes in a production played in a wide traverse, which draws in audience members. So do the actors when they come up short of a playmate or, hilariously, a prop such as love in idleness, depicted on press night by a bemused, mature gentleman with a magical touch.

The framing device is clever, allowing the actors to use their own identities but several of Bottom’s finest lines while they argumentatively cast and conceptualise their production.

Swiftly though they take on their dual roles and the dreamy magic begins.

Ludovic Hughes is a magisterial Theseus, challenging young Athenian lovers to pair off diplomatically and eventually inducing a quartet of them to disappear into a forest.

There, he works hard to persuade the audience that the stage is dominated, from its centre, by a gigantic oak tree, skirted by all but one of the actors in one of the evening’s many successful running gags.

Once in the forest, Hughes becomes Oberon opposite Maddy Hill’s particularly sour Titania.

There, with the assistance of Melanie Fullbrook, the only actor with a single persona as Puck, he creates chaotic mayhem but a great deal of fun.

Freddies Fox and Hutchins as Demetrius and Lysander struggle to contain their passions in the presence of Suzie Preece playing Hermia and Lucy Eaton as a memorably angry and jealous Helena.

Cleverly, having cast actresses of similar height, Miss Eaton having a couple more inches is obliged to kowtow to her purportedly much taller companion from knee height.

The extra dimension that both William Shakespeare and Simon Evans make so much of is the rude mechanicals, here seeming particularly absurd but characteristically so.

While ostensibly led by Miss Hill as a toothy Peter Quince, this is actually the opportunity for the most recent graduate of the Fox dynasty (supported at opening night by a bevy of family members) to show his mettle as Bottom.

Without the need for an ass’s head, he conveys the essence of that ignorant animal perfectly in an acting tour-de-force that promises much for his future career.

The true ingenuity of this production lies in its combined appeal to seasoned Shakespeareans and innocents who may not know the play but will take away a memory of an evening packed with laughter but also charm and poetry.

London seems to be awash with Dreams at the moment, including several high profile interpretations such as the equally experimental but far less winning version just up the road at the Globe.

However, despite the limited budget, if you are looking for empathy with the originator, lively entertainment and great value for money, this production should prove a sure-fire winner.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher