A Midsummer Night's Dream

William Shakespeare
Propeller at the Comedy Theatre
(2003)

It is all too easy for productions of the Dream to become something of a nightmare. While most directors seem to capture the comedy aspects to a greater or lesser extent, there should be an extra magic and all too often it passes them by.

Edward Hall is far too canny a Shakespearian director to fall into this trap and with his all-male Propeller Company has come up with the best production of the play in many a year. Using a cast with which he is very familiar and a style including internally generated music and song together with Ben Ormerod's subtle lighting he gives fresh life to this familiar play.

From the moment that Simon Scardifield's Puck emerges from a little silver house, clad in tutu and striped stockings it is clear that this is no ordinary Midsummer Night's Dream. While the whole company performs well, it is the sweetly innocent, bungling Puck together with Robert Hands' Helena that will live in the memory.

In fact, all four of the young lovers, parts that frequently lack life have real character in Hall's hands. While the men are brawny types, Jonathan McGuinness as Hermia is timid but wilful and Hands gives a marvellous performance as the often-desperate Helena, a woman who will get her man at any cost.

Oberon (Guy Williams) and Titania (Richard Clothier) are our very dark fairies the latter resembling Cruella de Ville. Their long-john clad team lack sweetness but accompanying the action on mouth organs and various bits of percussion keep the pace fast from start to finish.

The mechanicals are extremely funny with a Lancastrian Bottom the Weaver well played by Tony Bell, both in dramaturgical mode and when playing the Ass.

Michael Pavelka's design is very characteristic. Starting off with white dustsheets and ladders it soon develops as the players adopt colourful and often silly costumes to add to the fun.

It sometimes seems that there is a new production of A Midsummer Night's Dream every month or so. Even those who feel as if they have seen enough to last a lifetime should enjoy Edward Hall's new version that has already been a very successful both at the Watermill in Newbury and on tour.

A novelty is a brief musical bonus that occurs during the interval. The majority of the cast accompanied by Tony Bell on the fiddle, sing three songs to raise money for the children's theatrical charity, Scene and Heard.

Peter Lathan reviewed this production on tour at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher