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June 2, 2009 | by  | in Theatre |
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A Midsummer Night’s Dream

theatre

After more than four hundred years of performances, Shakespeare’s plays are quite regularly set in far-flung locations and modern eras. So the classic comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the 1980s would seem to be a match made in synth-pop heaven. Indeed, the MTV-era and its neon spandex effortlessly complements Shakespeare’s fairytale in Stagecraft’s production on at the Gryphon Theatre this month.

But just as the recollections of the eighties can inspire nausea from overexposure, this show suffers from one too many poorly choreographed glam rock numbers and excessive gimmicky choices. The play begins innocently enough, with the soon-to-be-wed Queen Hippolyta (Jasmine Emberchts) lounging on a deck chair, adorned with her leopard-print bikini and a trashy romance fiction. But no sooner have the houselights dimmed than several spandex-clad girls appear and begin to dance unseen to the zeitgeist favourite, Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’. This is just the first of several seemingly unrelated ‘dance’ numbers (some sung by the cast to karaoke tracks) that occur throughout the duration of the play, a device that gets big laughs from the audience in the beginning, but become increasingly tedious as the play goes on.

That isn’t to say that setting the play in the eighties was all bad—in fact, far from it. Many of the jokes and adaptations worked particularly well, in particular, Petra Quince’s Academy of Aerobics Arts, a David Bowie-like Oberon, and a subtle but clever hat-tip to Pink Floyd. Much of the musical choices were inspired—when they were part of the sound scape rather than a production number performed by the cast—and included Jennifer Rush’s ‘The Power of Love’, Billy Idol’s ‘White Wedding’, and several Michael Jackson classics.

There were some standout performances from the cast, especially Melanie Camp’s Helena, who flips deftly from pathetic girlish mooning over Demetrius (Martin Brown) to charming pique, and the gender-swapped Petra (originally Peter) Quince, whose own crush on the cockeyed Bottom (Alan Carabott) gets the audience rolling in the aisles. Reuben Brickell makes an entertaining and mischievous Puck, whose delight for creating pandemonium is clearly displayed in a cheeky grin through most of the play. Overall, when the play stuck to the pure Shakespeare, the actors performed admirably.

But by Act IV there had been one too many scenes dragged out by an unfortunate dance or uninspired performance of dialogue. The entire play-within-the-play was at best tedious and often bordered on unbearable. Puck’s final speech was destroyed by an awkwardly-sung gospel number performed by the whole cast.

Most of the problems with Paul Kay’s production weren’t necessarily of vision or even in execution, but a simple failure to know when enough is enough. Too often, this Midsummer crosses over into ‘too much’ territory, spoiling what is at its heart an enjoyable and clever production.

Written by Willy Shakespeare
Directed by Paul Kay
With Rodney Bane, Anna Beccard, Matt Bentley, Gillian Boyes, Reuben Brickell, Martin Brown, Mel Camp, Alan Carabott, Heather Da Vanzo, Jasmine Embrechts, Margaret Hill, Michelle Jordan, Jessica Knights, Jane Maltby, Kirsten O’Regan, Aisha Pachoud, Elise Pallesen, Rebecca Parker, Ben Priest, Tom Rimmer, Grant Robinson, Stephen Walter, Helen White and Sarah Wood.

At the Gryphon theatre from the 27 May–6 June 2009
Part of the Compleate Workes Shakespeare Festival

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Comments (2)

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  1. joanne levy says:

    ouch

  2. Adam says:

    Not liking Shakespeare that much and not knowing this play, I was pretty surprised how much i enjoyed it. The many 80s nods were a cool trip back and the only real downside were the overly long bits of Shakespearean twaddle (i realise this is the opposite POV to the reviewer). The acting was solid from all the main cast, the set was imaginative and well-utilised, and the costume-makers must have been pissing themselves coming up with the wardrobe.

    Thanks for a fun night.

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