If you’re thinking of going to see this Storyhouse production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, let me say at the outset (and with some certainty) that you should, as there’s a ninety nine per cent chance you’ll love the show.
How can I be so sure, and so precise?
Simple. Ninety nine percent of the audience clearly loved it on the night, in a way that was obvious not just from their wild ovation at the end, but from their unreserved and hugely positive reactions all the way through.
By comparison, I certainly liked the show, and at times liked it very much, but never fell in love with it in quite the same way. I’ll go into the reasons for this later, if only because – well, I pretty much have to; though I feel like a bit of a grouch for doing so, so I’ll be as brief as I can on that front.
First, some of the good stuff, of which there was plenty. Enough, in fact, that this is far from a complete list.
Sarah de Tute’s musical choices and arrangements brought an almost festival-like feeling to proceedings; and it is perhaps thanks to her background making award-winning family-orientated theatre that director Elvi Piper managed to bring out the inner child in so many of us, so much of the time.
If you’d asked me before the show to pick out the actor playing bottom from a line-up without referring to the programme, I’d’ve struggled; but no matter: Victoria Brazier quickly made the part her own. In the process, she managed to do something I’ve rarely if ever seen in this play in making sense of why, despite being such a nuisance (albeit a very entertaining one for the audience), Bottom is so clearly loved by the other mechanicals.
The gender-blind casting similarly resulted in a striking Titania, in the very capable hands of Laurie Jamieson; a just-the-right-side-of-barnstorming performance that might have stolen the show amongst a weaker ensemble.
James McLean’s quietly powerful stage presence made for a very sympathetic Peter Quince, the ineffectual writer-cum-director of the mechanicals’ play-within-the-play The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe.
Molly-Grace Cutler gave us a pleasingly irreverent and insubordinate Puck, and when she burst into song she took things to another level – so much so, I’d’ve been very happy indeed to have paid just to hear her sing, especially if accompanied by other members of the cast in equally fine voice.
Meanwhile, as effective as his musical contributions were, Matthew Ganley’s stints as both Francis Flute and Thisbe made me wish we’d seen more of his acting. As the latter, he found some genuine pathos in the tragic end of the mechanicals’ meta-drama; though the decision (perhaps not his own) to undercut this lovely moment with a final comic touch never-the-less had me again disagreeing slightly with the hugely appreciative audience, as I think the moment would have been far stronger simply left to breathe.
This ‘less could be more’ feeling is at the heart of the elements that didn’t quite work for me, though they clearly did for virtually everyone else – if you’ve seen photographs online of audiences having the times of their lives, I can confirm, those photos are both representative and accurate.
I can’t help feeling that, if you’re going to stage his writing, you won’t go far wrong if you let Shakespeare do the lion’s share of the heavy lifting. His words are poetic enough they don’t always need a musical underscore, and captivating enough that there’s little (if anything) to be gained by drawing our attention elsewhere with full-on audience interactions from characters not engaged in that part of the story.
For me, it felt that at times that those in question didn’t so much break the fourth wall as completely demolish it and start juggling with the pieces; though even as I write this, I have to admit, that sounds hugely entertaining – as in fact it was, for pretty much the whole of the rest of the audience.
So what do I know?
Given the current economic climate, and the various other stresses of the last few years, the decision to feed an audience’s appetite for some much-needed communal escapism isn’t only entirely valid, it could be argued that it is absolutely vital; so perhaps I’m in the minority because of how magically and completely Shakespeare’s writing itself transports me, without the need for so many added bells and whistles.
Perhaps I’m simply wrong.
On balance, it would be something of an injustice if my own quibbles put people off who most likely won’t share them. I’d say without hesitation that, if you’re thinking of going to see this show, you almost certainly should; statistically speaking, you’re far more likely to agree with the ninety nine per cent than with me.
Grouching aside, I myself was very pleased to see a young girl of about seven years of age sitting on the front row opposite who spent the whole performance absolutely captivated, perched precariously on the edge of her seat, a huge grin from ear to ear. If this production has a similar effect on everyone, perhaps even if they’re seeing Shakespeare for the first time, then each and every apparent flaw I perceived isn’t so much to be forgiven, as to be rendered almost entirely irrelevant.
And like her – and even with these reservations – I was also a little bit sad when the show was over.
Photo Credit: Mark McNulty