Pros: A good re-telling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with an outstanding interpretation of the woodland spirits, and in particular, of Puck by Ella Garland.
Cons: The idea of interpreting it as two separate dreams is great, but the real joy would be to see both of the double-sided productions together.
For this ambitious adaptation, A Midsummer Night’s Dream has moved into Downtown Abbey territory by being set in and around the First World War. The production consists of two separate shows; each performed on alternating evenings with the same cast in the same roles. Each represents a different interpretation of Shakespeare’s text. The Dream is set prior to the start of the war, and presents the play as the lighthearted comedy is it meant to be. The other version is The Nightmare and is set at the height of the war, and is a distinctly darker interpretation.
I saw the Nightmare version, and prepared for a dark and tumultuous interpretation of the classic text. I was not disappointed. As a production of a Shakespearean classic, it’s very well done. Kristy Bruce as Hermia is well cast and endearing, and the dueling affections of Lysander and Demetrious are amusing. The play scene in the second half is appropriately funny, and the set design is very good. Athenian ruins meet bomb damage, military helmets, and camouflaged netting, while a smoke machine helps to add atmosphere as the spirits dance out of the smoky ruins.
The costuming and handling of the spirits is excellent – in this haunting First World War adaptation, the spirits all appear as ghosts of those who presumably perished in the war. Ella Garland as Puck is outstanding – her choreography around the characters is eerie, her smile and vacant eyes are unnerving. She hovers between tortured soul and slightly malevolent demon as she works her magic on those in the woods.
It’s a very enjoyable two hours, made even more so by the smoke and mirrors surrounding the spirits, and the ethereal – but occasionally slightly loud- background music.
There’s a subtle, but rather haunting twist at the end of the dark version – one which aligns well with the World War I setting, and endears people to the friendship between Hermia and Helena. It’s remarkable how, by changing the setting and the tone, that there is only a limited amount of joy to be had in the dark version, even though the words stay the same.
As a concept, transporting the play into the two Great War versions is certainly an interesting idea, but I can’t help but imagine that the real joy would be to see and to compare and contrast both the light and dark versions- an endeavor that would encompass 4 hours of Shakespeare over two nights.
It’s a big ask to see both, but as an individual performance, this is visually attractive Shakespeare—and the First World War setting adds wonderful depth to what was once a light-hearted storyline.
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: James Tobias and Amy Gunn
Producer: Immersion Theatre
Booking Until: Saturday 8th February 2014
Box Office: 0844 8700 887
Booking Link: http://www.brockleyjack.co.uk/