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A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Blue Elephant Theatre

William Shakespeare
Directed by Ricky Dukes

Pros: A nice, wintery feel to a traditional summer tale (who doesn’t love a good snow machine?). Smooth and creative scene changes, a terrific performance from Bottom and quite a few very funny moments (though mostly thanks to Bottom).

Cons: Some of the performances require toning down and sadly the show never quite comes together fully.

Our Verdict: A promising production which still requires a lot of improvements to make it work really well. The energy is often far too high leaving little room for intimacy or natural emotion. There are some great things too though; a few really strong, fun performances and snow!

Credit: Adam Trigg

A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Blue Elephant begins with a busy wedding scene. As the audience take their seats, a long table stretches out across the stage where groups of actors chat, laugh and make merry. The setting is distinctly 1940s – girls in gorgeous tea dresses with pretty victory rolls in their hair and boys in smart attire. As the audience settles, the action begins with Hermia (Julie Gilby), who is betrothed to Demitrius but in love with Lysander. This is a fairly crucial part of the play as it sets up the tangled love story and the important play within a play. Sadly, almost all of Hermia’s speech is delivered seated at the table with her back to the audience. As I sat gazing at the back of her coiffed hairdo, I wondered why she wasn’t sitting at the other side of the table where we could see her. This odd directorial choice occurs at several points throughout the show with actors facing the back wall of the stage rather than looking out to the audience or elsewhere when delivering their monologues. This is not a criticism of anyone’s performance, but it did seem like an odd choice to me.

From the very first scene right through to the end, much of the dialogue is delivered very rapidly and with an energy that is far too high for such an intimate space. I admire all of the actors for memorising such enormous chunks of classical text (not one single line fluff among them for the entire show) and every actor seemed more than capable of delivering tricky Shakespearean language with ease. However, both the rapid speed and unnecessary gusto with which the lines were often delivered drained the show of naturalism and intimacy. There are a few exceptions to this, the main one being James Taylor Thomas who played Bottom brilliantly. The dexterity and charisma of his performance makes him something of a scene stealer and his choices were clear and well-rounded. He delivers his dialogue at a slow and measured pace with clear projection reaching right to the back rows without overpowering us. He is probably the only actor whose mannerisms perfectly matched the 1940s theme as his voice, humour and general demeanour all suggest a wealthy gentleman of that time period. This teamed with his remarkable flair for comedy creates a character who is hilarious and completely believable. I felt that some of the girls exuded a distinctly modern vibe which seemed out of place with their pin curled hair and wiggle dresses.

Along with James Taylor Thomas, other notable performances include Angela Jimenez (Egeus/Carlotta) who is particularly entertaining as a character in the play within a play and Benjamin Archer who portrays Quince believably and with great humour. Some of the sound, particularly the music which sounded like a church organ, became much too loud and startling in one scene and detracted from the action. At another point, one of the bright lights suddenly faced out onto the audience, forcing the audience members in front of me to wince and turn away.

Although this play failed to truly engage me as a whole, I do love that Lazarus Theatre Company have transformed A Midsummer Night’s Dream into a winter wonderland. With all the magic and humour woven throughout the original story, this traditional summer tale has a distinctive festive feel to it. Even if you are not a Christmassy person, I dare you not to love their epic snow machine and if that doesn’t cut it then, in my opinion, the performance from James Taylor Thomas alone is worth the ticket price.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at the Blue Elephant Theatre until 15th December 2012.
Box Office: 0207 701 0100 or book online at http://www.blueelephanttheatre.co.uk/midsummer-nights-dream

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