Pros: Tremendously funny, great use of language and an engaging, vibrant cast.
Cons: Despite cuts, it’s still a bit long.
Our Verdict: An incredibly approachable, tasteful, and uproarious Shakespeare production.
My main complaint about productions of Shakespeare’s plays is always that they either tend to be tired, unoriginal and stale, or that they try too hard to be original and lose all the sense and beauty of the original script. In my experience, it’s quite rare to find a Shakespearean production which mediates a tangible conversation between a Shakespearean text and a modern audience. For that reason, be sure not to miss the Grassroots Shakespeare Company’s
production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre
. It is exactly the kind of production I’m talking about! Both original and true to the original, this production engages both the audience and the text with skill and a serious sense of fun.
The Grassroots Shakespeare Company promote themselves as an ‘Original Practices’ company; in other words, they emulate the circumstances under which Shakespeare’s plays were originally produced. In particular they function in a short rehearsal time and with no director. Thus they bring together the best of both worlds: combining the style and life of original Shakespeare with the creativity of contemporary theatre makers. Their formula is a successful one; Midsummer has a simultaneously modern and classic atmosphere. It brings history and poetry to modern audiences through performers who are excited about communicating the story, instead of updating the words so that audiences can more easily understand.
Having cut and adjusted the script themselves, the troupe maintains the romance and style of the language while skilfully making it clear and approachable for audiences of all ages and walks of life. Often, even when watching a good production, you can get lost in the language and miss the action. On the other hand, in a production converted to modern language you can lose the mastery of the poetry. Fortunately, Grassroots has risen to the challenge of making the original language engaging through fusing it with high energy, passionate performance. It did feel a bit long in some cases, but that’s the nature of the Shakespeare beast, and both cast and audience easily bounce back into the energy after dragging moments.
Speaking of drag, gender-blind casting is another great choice by Grassroots, who have taken on Shakespeare’s original practice of casting men only, regardless of the gender of the characters. This results in a particularly hilarious depiction of Lady Helena. A simple set and minimal, homemade props are also great contributions to this great-theatre-on-a-whim regime. It suits the play well, allowing audiences to imagine much of the magical woods for themselves.
Overall, this is a great show. Don’t be daunted by the verse – it is really used well by the company to compliment the piece instead of complicate it. More good stuff!
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre in rep with The Tempest until 5th January 2013.
Box Office: 08444 999 999 or book online at