Pros: The witty double castings of the main romantic foursome into the comical figures of Pyramus and Thisbe.
Cons: The experience of The Dream does not add anything new to what is expected from this play.
Set in the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, Immersion Theatre gives a new take on Shakespeare’s A Midsummers Night Dream, separating the fable-like nature of the play into the experience of The Dream and The Nightmare. Since A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of my favourite plays, I was extremely excited to hear about a different interpretation, and the fact that it was playing at the Brockley Jack added to my enthusiasm; the theatre is small but very intimate and welcoming, and the pub offers everything you need to get into an expectant mood before the play.
Upon entering the theatre I was greeted by a bewitching atmosphere; there was mist engulfing the scattered Greek columns, a military net was hanging on the back and sets of British flags hid the doors backstage. The next thing I noticed were the many flower garlands – the audience was transported to a magical, supernatural forest in Britain during WW1, and this was without a doubt The Dream. To the left, reading nonchalantly, sat Hippolyta (Nicola Dalziel).
The curtain went up (figuratively) and Theseus – Brian Merry – approached the absorbed character. Let me give a quick recap for those of you unfamiliar with the story: Theseus and Hippolyta are musing over their wedding day when Theseus is called by Egeus (Rob Taylor-Hastings) to act as judge in a love triangle. The triangle involves his daughter Hermia (Kristy Bruce), who is in love with Lysander (Oliver Gully), but betrothed to Demetrius (Jack Harding). Once she learns of the harsh ruling, Hermia decides to run away with Lysander. Helena (Rochelle Parry), the love-beaten character lusting after Demetrius, finds out and tells the jealous suitor. They all end up in the magical forest surrounded by the royals of the fairy court: Oberon and Titania, also played by Merry and Dalziel, and their roguish servant Puck (Ella Garland). An additional character, played by James Clifford, gets sucked into their games and ends up being turned into the famous Donkey.
After about an hour we were asked to leave for a fifteen-minute interval; the last scene had rendered the four lovers and the Donkey unconscious. As we exited into the pub I started to get very excited: my theory was that what the characters wake up to in Act Two would determine the nature of the Dream or the Nightmare. Unfortunately, when it came to it, the Dream was nothing different from the original story. I felt the audience would have benefited from a comparison with the darker version to really appreciate the idea behind splitting the experience. Having said that, there’s nothing I like more than a genuinely good Shakespeare – which this was without a doubt.
The acting was effortless, funny, intense…you name it. Gully and Harding switched from passionate suitors to testosteronic lovers, with Bruce and Parry keeping up with the madness and giving fantastic performances. Clifford was really a joy to watch, providing the comic element throughout the story. But my personal favourite had to be Garland as Puck: this was the first time I’d seen a female casting for this role and I have to say I’m converted. She gave Puck an innocent, rascally nature, which I feel like comparing to the character Pippi Longstoking.
Finally, along with the visually stunning moments created by lighting and body language when the fairies cast their charms over the mortal lovers, what stood out for me was the clever double casting of the roles. After the intense moments in the forest, the romantic foursome switched into the comical characters of the play-within-a-play Pyramus and Thisbe. After the flow of emotions accumulated, this clash of roles worked perfectly to round everything up with some great comedy.
Even without The Dream interpretation adding anything different, this play was full of original and unique elements, combined with the fantastic acting and great set to give a Shakespeare you would truly hate to miss.
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: James Tobias & Amy Gunn
Producer: Immersion Theatre
Booking Until: 8th February 2014
Booking Link: www.brockleyjack.co.uk
Box Office: 0844 877 887