The Donkey Show
Randy Weiner and Diane Paulus
Simon Friend, Jacob Wagen, Adam Paulden & Oli Sones in association with Dan Looney & Jason Haigh-Ellery and Executive Producer Alex Proud
Fabulous, funky and feisty, The Donkey Show is a version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream like no other—mainly because it is seriously Shakespeare lite.
The audience are transported back to the 1970s and queue to enter the magical Club Oberon. With pumping soundtrack, gyrating fairies, massive disco ball, dry ice and plenty of pole dancing, it’s definitely the place to be.
There’s a party atmosphere in which singing and dancing along is highly encouraged, so when poor Helen pushes through the crowd searching for Dmitri it’s an easy leap to transpose forest to night club.
Equally effective is the staging of Titania and Oberon playing out their argument for the benefit of their fairy and mortal audience—the glitter and the sparkle make total sense in such a psychedelic environment.
However, although it might be "Shakespeare without the boring bits", it is in fact Shakespeare without much of the comedy too. We lose the wonderful mechanicals and also much of the build-up of the lovers' scenes.
What we gain instead is a tongue-in-cheek, distilled version of the love story with an effortlessly glamorous Lady Puck (James Gillan) taking orders from a particularly sleazy Oberon (Vikki Stone). As love is the drug, it’s an appropriate choice for a large needle to inject the individual characters.
Full of magic potion and an upbeat Friday feeling, characterisation is beautifully grotesque, contrasting well with the superb voices revealed in each song. Disco hits such as "Car Wash", "I will survive", "Don’t leave me this way" and "Shaft" are woven into the continuing action (there is very little dialogue) as the characters dance, push and pole dance their way through the crowd from platform to platform.
There is highly effective, but unnecessary, doubling at play here meaning that this hardworking cast literally never stops. They are ably supported, however, by dancing and acrobatic fairies that whip the crowd into the party spirit and persuade even the shyest of audience members to dance.
They are also responsible for moving the various platforms (and audience) around the club ensuring that the choreography is shown off safely but with style. The only downside of this is that it occasionally becomes unclear as to where the scripted action is taking place.
By removing so much of the original plot, the action does become rather fragmented, leaving those unfamiliar with the source material happy but a little confused (I have no idea why we were treated to two donkeys) by a seemingly abrupt ending.
If you’re looking for a fun, immersive experience where you can sing your heart out, and even get a little bit involved in the choreography, then this is the show for you. If you’re tired of endless traditional versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream then this is also the show for you.
If, however, you want to see even 10% Shakespeare then stay away—there is a smattering of Shakespearian fairy dust in this production but it is disguised under a disco-tastic Afro.
Reviewer: Amy Yorston