Monday 16 July 2012
Theatre review: A Midsummer Night's Dream (Custom/Practice / Almeida & Edinburgh Assembly)
The opening scene had me worried that, as sometimes happens when directors come up with one good hook for a show, the production would rest on its laurels and not try for much more originality. But the framing device proves to be no more than that, and soon gives way to what is actually a pretty traditional staging, though of a fairly heavily edited text. As is usually the case with most Shakespeare comedies it takes a while to warm up but once it does it ends up boasting some of the funniest interpretations of the play's madness that I've seen. The 8-strong cast is largely made up of recent drama school graduates, some of whom we'll hopefully be seeing more of on stage. Thanks to some very quick changes the lovers double as the mechanicals; the show even manages to make a virtue of not having enough cast members for a Starveling.
For me the show's comic standout was probably Rebecca Loudon, who brings some lovely little touches to Helena and a gender-swapped Peta Quince, but there's also some scene-stealing turns from Naoufal Ousellam's taciturn Snug, Malaolu's über-queeny Philostrate and Lorenzo Martelli's childlike Bottom. If there's a weak link in the production it's the decision to give the fairies an exaggerated, physical performance style - I can see what McKen's going for there but it actually comes off quite awkwardly, and going "big" for real is maybe not the wisest idea in a play that gets one of its biggest comic setpieces from an overacted play-within-the-play. But for the most part this is a bit of an unexpected gem that I booked on a whim but was pleasantly surprised by.
A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare is booking until the 21st of July at the Almeida Theatre; then from the 2nd to the 27th of August at Assembly George Square, Edinburgh.
Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes including interval.