Our Verdict: Pucking funny (ahem)! A great night out if you keep an open mind, in terms of pure laughs Shakespeare doesn’t get funnier than this!
The first thing to say about the latest offering from the Filter Theatre company is that it is likely to be deeply divisive, not because it contains any particularly outrageous material, but because many theatre-goers put Shakespeare’s scripts on a pedestal. This is a production which takes liberties with the text and content of the play.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a classic text and a beautiful script perfectly framed, with its lovers, fairies and the famous play-within-a-play. I don’t need to go over the plot, which any spark notes or Wikipedia article can describe better than I ever could. At the same time, it must be one of the most performed plays on offer. To stand out, any production of this play needs either a flawless execution or a radical staging.
Sean Holmes’ production undoubtedly goes for the later. A conscious decision is made to treat this as more of a pantomime than a sacrosanct text from Britain’s finest playwright. No more than half of the production relies on the original text, the rest being written around, or probably improvised, with the distinct aim of taking this play-within-a-play and adding an extra layer of meta theatricality.
All the elements of pantomime are present – the B-list celebrity, the heckling audience (possibly plants?), the crude jokes and the cheap laughs. Paint is thrown, food fights take place and ridiculous costumes are rife. This directorial decision is a brave one, as it relies greatly on how the audience react to determine success or failure.
With such volatile blocking, the production needs to rely on a flawless design to underpin the action. Indisputably, this is the case: the set is riddled with devices which keep the audience on the edge of their seat – paper walls, trap doors, microphones and the live band care of the London Snorkelling Team provide seemingly endless laughter, and often inject energy into the production when it is most needed.
Performance wise, the production certainly brings Shakespeare’s characters to life. Ferdy Roberts’ performance as Puck is an obvious standout. The decision to portray him as a member of the stage crew is no less than brilliant, and comes with a matching performance. Similarly, Mark Benton as an impromptu Bottom delivers laughs, as does Jonathan Broadbent’s spandex-wearing rendition of Oberon. A special mention goes to Ed Gaughan as Peter Quince, the director of the play-within-a-play, who here takes the role of compere and drives the play from start to finish.
Overall, this is a marmite-like staging: you will either love it or hate it. If you like Shakespeare played in period costume and following the immortal verses of the bard, then you will hate this production. You will walk out, and perhaps demand your money back. In this case, do not attend under any circumstances. If, on the other hand, you are up for a fun, entertaining night of comedy, then I cannot recommend this enough. At the end if the day the question is this: did we enjoy it? Yes we most certainly did. Enormously in fact.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments in the section below!
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at the Lyric Hammersmith until 17th March 2012.
Box Office: 0871 221 1729 or book tickets online at http://www.lyric.co.uk/whats-on/production/a-midsummer-nights-dream/