A Midsummer Night's Dream - Open Air Theatre 2011

Our critics rating: 

Review by Peter Brown
4 June 2011

Summer somehow wouldn't quite be summer without seeing a version of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. It used to be the centrepiece of the season at the Open Air Theatre, but since that tradition has been discontinued, we look to others to provide. And here it's the Faction Theatre Company who have come up with a new, refreshing and energetic production to stave off the withdrawal symptoms.

There's not much in the way of a set here. A few balloons, illuminated from above, are all that we get. So, forget about undergrowth, massive trees or other flora. It's time to use your imagination. The same goes for the costumes. Simplicity is the key, and the theme is sleep – so this is the 'Dream' in pyjamas.

A team of 8 actors double-up in the various roles, sometimes making instant character changes. But that all works well, even though there are no costume changes to help us identify characters – well, apart from the play at the end where, for example, the lion wears a mop on his head, Pyramus a colander and the wall is a shower curtain.

You might think there's nothing new to introduce into a play which many would think has already been 'done to death'. But you'd be wrong. This is really 'physical theatre' where the focus is on the physical work of the actor's. Bottom's ass's head is created with hands and arms, and on some occasions, even feet. The Indian Boy is a puppet also formed with the actors' hands, Puck is yanked on an invisible lead by Oberon and Helena drags Demetrius around on the floor when he's under the fairy spell and holds him at arm's length with her hand on his face. One thing, however, mystified and intrigued me. That was the fairies' hand gestures. They look like they have an invisible ball in their hands which they continually turn and manipulate. Though it distinguishes them from the mortals well enough, I just couldn't understand what they were supposed to be doing. Still, such is the nature of dreams!

Perhaps intentionally, the opening scene is rather formal and somewhat downbeat. But the dynamics move rapidly into top gear as we get away from the civilities of the city and into the dream world of the forest. The pace is brisk, but there's good variation and balance between the more frantic action and the calmer sequences. The cast are lively and enthusiastic and Mark Leipacher's direction is detailed and confident, though a little attention to speaking volume and enunciation wouldn't go amiss in some quarters.

The play by the 'rude mechanicals' isn't the best I've seen, but it was certainly good enough to get plenty of laughs from the substantial Saturday night audience. I particular liked the dog puppet (a furry version) and Flute's wig which made him appear incredibly sinister.

Shakespeare in pyjamas might not be everybody's cup of tea, but this is certainly an endearing, interesting and well thought-out modern production which deserves to be seen.

(Peter Brown)


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