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Summer Dreaming 1973

John Topliff, Gina Frost
Manchester Shakespeare Company
Three Minute Theatre

Summer Dreaming 1973

The Manchester Shakespeare Company continues its series of adaptations of the bard’s great works at Three Minute Theatre with A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

In its fourth offering, Shakespeare’s text has been plucked from ancient Athens and relocated to 1970s Manchester, with a handful of original songs and several buckets of glitter.

Shakespeare’s iconic combination of fairies, lovers, drugs and confusion makes sense in a '70s setting. Oberon and Titania are forest-dwelling hippies, with Puck a peddler of hallucinogenic substances.

The mechanicals putting on a play are working class trade unionists with big ambitions, while Theseus and Hippolyta are re-imagined as the snobbish, doubt-ridden betrothed couple Duke Charles Wilmslow and Lady Diana Expensive. While the punning names are amusing, this reference seems a little incongruous given that the characters’ real life counterparts were married in 1981.

Unfortunately, the '70s setting doesn’t really extend beyond costume and basic characterisation. More could be made of the love-in-idleness drug trips, or of Bottom’s ‘translated’ appearance as a glam rocker. The songs are performed well by talented singers amongst the cast, but they don’t parody or even evoke memories of tunes from the era.

Similarly, while the play’s relocation to the north west works initially—the lovers flee from Mancia through the forest of Ardwick—references to the setting drop off as the action progresses. In order for any fresh reworking of Shakespeare to succeed, it needs to remind the audience why it’s different and how its specific angle works.

Part of the reason why Summer Dreaming 1973 loses its identity is a regression into the original dialogue. It begins with scenes entirely in modern day speech, yet as the play progresses, increasing amounts of Shakespearian verse crop up. This jars, particularly when other characters look blank after a poetic monologue and ask for clarification, or when they greet modern language with "it’s not exactly Shakespeare". The bard’s most famous lines may be hard to resist, but modernised adaptations should do just that—and for the entire piece.

Although there are genuinely amusing moments—Puck and Oberon ‘hiding’ from the mortals by holding sprigs of greenery in front of their faces, Hermia coercing Lysander into signing a pre-nup—there is a heavy reliance on crude, sexist humour. This could arguably have a place in the mechanicals’ scenes, but when Helena’s ‘spaniel’ speech is used to make jokes about dogging, the sad, unrequited love of the original scene is lost.

The cast generally embrace their roles with enthusiasm, clearly enjoying themselves onstage—Sophie Ann Ellicott, Ellen Rogerson and Sophie Grace Toland particularly stand out. There is some visible awkwardness and several hairy moments with misbehaving props and set, but these should be ironed out when everyone has a few more performances under their belts.

While Shakespeare’s story doesn’t always merge well with its new influences in Summer Dreaming 1973, it’s good to see his work being approached in a fresh and different way at such a unique, fun and welcoming venue.

Reviewer: Georgina Wells