Sometimes, growing up in the UK - as with the Royal Family, Marmite or Ricky Gervais - we can be divided about Shakespeare. You either get the fuss or you don’t. Studying his work helps of course, as you soon understand the discourse and formula and see something you connect with. Or don’t.
I’m fortunate enough to be in the camp of readers that actually love his work. Not like “read every day” love, but recognise it as a treat and get engrossed in the story. Therefore this addition to the York skyline this summer has been something to celebrate, something I feel very honoured to have, something which I hope returns or stays. My first taste of Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre (the first pop up Shakespearean theatre in Europe) was A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Perhaps one of his “easiest” and most accessible works, I would also recommend it as a starting point for those trying to familiarise themselves with big Will.
I’ve seen numerous productions of this (one being in Stratford Upon Avon: home to the bard) and can hand on heart say this was one of the finest. There wasn’t one weak link as each actor on the stage explored comedy and fantasy in equal measure. Juliet Forster’s telling of A Midsummer Nights Dream is far from twee. With the gothic fairies spinning acrobatics above and around the stage, it felt more like an underground circus in places yet was completely kept alive by Theseus and Hippolyta as King and Queen of the Fairies – Theseus becomes Titania. Ideas of gender, femininity, and power are thrown into the blender, Amanda Ryan totally holds court as the powerful, devious, oft-menacing Oberon. An otherwise mannered performance by Anthony Bunsee as Hippolyta comes into his own as Titania - his comedy timing and interaction with the audience (and Bottom) has the audience in stitches.
Sara Perk’s minimalist design throws the audience headfirst into the imaginative world; where ropes and movement, noise and material build atmosphere, we are left as the final piece of the puzzle - using our own imagination to interoperate what we saw. The live music was a welcome addition, although in parts I wanted more; when the fairies were at play it was so visually compelling I could have done with more drama aurally.
The romp and crossed wires of the four lovers was completely compelling, perhaps more so than in any production of AMND that I’ve seen to date. Amy Lennox’s Hermia brings the set alive with her silent film star performance, her physical comedy and manipulations what modern Shakespeare should be about: the Bard’s words suddenly lost their classicism and came alive through comedy and delivery from all the four main humans in peril as they are twisted and turned by mischief and ill-begotten love spells. The Rude Mechanicals, sometimes portrayed as fussy and irritating, are genuinely likeable and funny here, with Paul Hawkyard’s Bottom a rambunctious, jolly rogue, whether wearing his own beard or a wicker donkey mask. The staging of Shakespeare’s favourite device, the play-within-a-play, by the troupe at the end brings the audience to tears of raucous laughter, pantomimic and fittingly rude. All the cast seem to be enjoying themselves immensely.
And tying it all together of course is Puck, who in previous productions I’ve seen as a saintly old woman, a dastardly imp and even a tall, slick-haired gentleman in a suit; here played by Clare Corbett as a West Country sprite with a penchant for audience invasions, mimickry and mockery, and who tops off this production as the impish cherry on a funny, perky, unmissable summer cake. A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues as a matinee and evening performance throughout the summer. Book below.BOOK HERE