In the Winter Semester, the King’s Shakespeare Company put on one of the Bard’s most iconic tragedy’s King Lear; so it only seems natural that their Spring Semester would bring us one of the top Shakespearean comedy’s as well. Thus, Luke James Boneham puts an an unlikely production of one of Shakespeare’s most pastoral plays A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which the ‘dream’ is something more akin to a nightmare.
The venue for the play at first would seem to be an odd choice – this renovated nightclub called Tutu’s does not scream the idyllic or bucolic atmosphere expected for a production such as this. Yet Boneham makes the space work as the stage floor is blanketed with woodchips and coiling trees; depicting a darker Athenian Wood than what an audience usually expects. While a fresh visual, this was perhaps too dark thanks to the lighting that accompanied it. I’m sure it was a one-night mistake, but I couldn’t help notice that the primary spots were on the front row of the audience rather than the actors. Whether it be King Theseus in the balcony above, or the fairies on the stage-sides, characters would be obscured in darkness whilst I was glowing brightly.
The actors did outshine this quibble however, and there were some excellent performances from the cast. The stand-out was that of Emily Brown and her excellent portrayal of Helena whose exceptional comic tone served as a bittersweet defense against Demetrius’ cruelty. The four lovers overall actually had a stronger comic presence than most Midsummers, with the power struggles between man (Tom Marsh & Ben Dallyn) and woman (Emily Brown & Rosalia Mp) being more heartfelt than the sinister, abusive kingdom of Oberon and Titania (Joe Prestwich & Grace Farrell). Puck was also a highlight in the production, as Jackie Edwards establishes a refreshing take on the imp when she enters the play devouring a rabbit hide and continues to show a not so nice side to Robin Goodfellow. And of course, the Mechanicals were each hilarious, from George Collecot’s overpassioned Prologue, to Akshay Sharan’s stage fright, and Ally McDermot’s laments to the leeks. It’s a shame therefore, that with such a great comic cast, that Bottom (Travis Alabanza) was the most underwhelming. Even with an ass for a head, all the minor Mechanicals stand out far more than their ‘thespian’ lead, who doesn’t reach the comic panache his peers do.
This may come partly from the script, as a ferocious economy trimmed most of this subplot, and the main plot for that matter. As one of Shakespeare’s shortest, it is surprising for Boneham to compress the production into a piece with no interval and an hour and a half.
A final compliment should also be given to the costumes and makeup by Anouk Roussum. The costumes were all wonderful compliments to the characters (especially Oberon’s fabulous purple-curtained cape), while the makeup on the fairies by Roussum was innovative in relating Oberon’s magical abuse to bruise marks shaped like handprints on the pixies.
I have only seen two Midsummer Night’s Dreams: this student production and a professional all-male one several years ago. What I can safely certify from Boneham’s interpretation is that he has succeeded in crafting a far more memorable and entertaining look on A Midsummer Nights Dream than my previous experience watching it; and even with a darker aesthetic, he still shows what fools these mortals be.