Pros: Easily the funniest interpretation I’ve ever seen of this play.
Cons: There’s potential confusion for newcomers around Oberon and Titania.
Shakespeare’s classic, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is re-imagined in this high energy production from The Malachites. In a tale of love, rivalry and mischief, we follow two Athenian couples whose fiery relationships unknowingly lead them into an enchanted forest. The forest is home to Oberon, the king of the fairies (Danielle Larose), his queen Titania (Benjamin Blyth) and the mischievous Puck (Luke Gray). Also in the forest are a troupe of hapless actors, lead by Bottom the weaver (Paula Brett). Oberon instructs Puck to fetch a magic flower, the pollen of which has the power to make a person fall in love with the next living thing they encounter. As the flower does its work, mistaken identities and a series of unfortunate encounters make for hilarious chaos.
On a warm summer evening, the rooftop of Rockwell House is the perfect venue for this production. The open-air setting brings the forest atmosphere to life and the loosely structured seating allows the actors complete freedom to move around the space. With very little in the way of a set, the audience itself is used as a divide between sections of the forest. In a creative twist, the final ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ section is played out in a separate space entirely, in which the audience seamlessly takes on the perspective of the Athenian court.
Staging such a well-known piece can be challenging, but Blyth’s direction and the cast’s delivery set this interpretation apart from the rest. Details like the intonation of certain lines and physical humour brought the characters into the 21st century without compromising the original text. Edmund Sage-Green and Paula Brett are particularly relatable as Lysander and Bottom, while Lysander’s rivalry with Luke Shepherd’s Demetrius is comic genius. Despite having seen several very good versions of this play before, I found myself laughing out loud at lines which had previously always passed me by.
Blyth makes an interesting choice in swapping the physical bodies of Titania and Oberon towards the beginning of the play. The interchange is subtle and could almost be missed as the dialogue, of course, does not address it. For those who are unfamiliar with the story, I can see that this might cause confusion. As someone who is familiar with the play, it still took a few scenes before I felt accustomed to the swap. Having said this, I felt it was a brave and ultimately successful move, as the reversed genders made for an interesting portrayal of both characters, as well as adding a layer of humour to Bottom and Titania’s relationship.
Other aspects of this production are kept beautifully simple. Soft lighting surrounds the performance space and a sparingly used projector casts film footage onto the ceiling. All sound effects and music are played live by the cast, in full view of the audience. This combination of elements makes for a lively atmosphere and the music felt like a befitting acknowledgement of the play’s Elizabethan roots.
Overall, The Malachites triumph in giving new life to old words. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is fun, creative, absolutely hilarious and perfectly adapted for a contemporary audience.
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Benjamin Blyth
Associate Director: Claire Dunlop
Booking Information: This show has now completed its run.