Friday, 24 February 2012

Theatre review: A Midsummer Night's Dream (Filter / Lyric Hammersmith)

They do say you shouldn't choose which shows to see solely on the basis of one cast member, and it can backfire. After having happily decided to give Filter's productions a miss in future, I relented for their new A Midsummer Night's Dream as Rhys Rusbatch was in it. Unfortunately the production seems to have shed him somewhere along the tour and it arrives at the Lyric Hammersmith without him. So what would I make of the latest Shakespeare adaptation from a company whose work I've found very problematic in the past?

Things don't start well as Ed Gaughan's Peter Quince opens the show with a bit of stand-up that uses the play's royal wedding as a prompt for such unique, never-before-made observations as the fact that the Royal Family is German, and that Camilla Parker-Bowles looks a bit like a horse. Once we get going properly though, the company seem to have got over, for now at least, some of the issues I've objected to in the past. Most importantly, though still inventive and silly, I no longer got the impression that Filter were having an onstage party for their own benefit, and should the audience happen to enjoy it as well, that's incidental.

Accordingly, the storytelling is a lot stronger. Though there's a certain amount of "cheating" (largely involving paraphrasing the script) the characters are clearly, if broadly defined which means the small amount of doubling isn't confusing. The focus from the off is on the confused lovers, Victoria Moseley and Rebecca Scroggs are particularly good as Hermia and Helena, the best friends with man trouble. Simon Manyonda's Demetrius is also fine but John Lightbody's creepily camp Lysander is a weird performance I couldn't get into. Jonathan Broadbent's Oberon is an asthmatic superhero, grudgingly attended by Ferdy Roberts' Puck, here a surly technician. Mark Benton, plucked out of the audience as a "last-minute replacement" complete with grocery bags, steals the show though as Bottom (I loved his "Pyramus and Frisbee.")

Despite big cuts and diversions from the text, director Sean Holmes manages to keep much of the original spirit - this isn't a particularly magical Dream but these things shouldn't be viewed as restrictions. It is a messy Dream though, culminating in a food fight and flying sausage rolls. For all the over-the-top fun though, I think my favourite gag was the sight of long-suffering stage manager Claire Bryan calmly crossing the back of the stage to deal with Oberon's latest mishap. There's still a bit of the air of smugness, of the company having come up with staging ideas whose cleverness must be admired, but I wonder how much of this is baggage I'm bringing from seeing earlier shows. But this is certainly a Filter I can be more positive about, and if I never quite got drawn into the fun of it all I did have a smile on my face for most of it.

I still reserve the right though, to be a grumpy old man about the credit "created by Filter." I'm not even sure what it's supposed to mean in this context and can't help thinking it's the result of seeing it on TV (where it does make sense to me as a credit) and thinking it looks cool. This is certainly an adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream, a credit I'd find perfectly accurate (though Filter's creativity is still always best-used on the actual play than the frequent diversions.) I'd have no argument, either, with some phrasing about "a concept created by Filter" (they can fight it out with Katie Mitchell over which of them invented the concept of sound effects.) But A Midsummer Night's Dream created by Filter? People have been staging Dream for the last four centuries, which seems pretty clever of them if Filter haven't got round to creating it until now.

A Midsummer Night's Dream by Filter, with additional dialogue by William Shakespeare, is booking until the 17th of March at the Lyric Hammersmith.

Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes straight through.

No comments:

Post a Comment