A Midsummer Night’s Dream review: ‘new life into Shakespeare’s classic’

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A Midsummers Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s comedic tale of confused love and distorted identities, was cheerfully brought to life last night in Hild Bede Theatre’s (HBT) opening night performance. Director has rendered a traditional production of one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, but with the help of a talented cast, has nevertheless managed to reinvigorate elements of the production, for today’s modern audience.

One of the most noticeable directorial choices was the decision to cast all women in the roles of the Lovers, with the actors inverting the traditional Shakespearean mode. Josie Williams (Lysander) and Jazzy Price (Demetrius) should be credited for their performances as the male suitors, especially in the enactment of the Fairies’ manipulation, and the influential love charm. Unlike some performances, HBT did not simply stick to the comic elements of Shakespeare’s plot, but equally appears to dramatize the potentially detrimental influences of lost, or even deluded love, hence complicating the play’s theatrical appeal.

Equally noticeable were the performances of Unity Haggard (Helena) and Emma Sims (Hermia), who appeared extremely confident on stage, keenly using both the space available and the nuances of Shakespeare’s play, to fulfil their dramatic potential. The interactions between Helena and Hermia were well executed, illustrating the shifting dynamics of their relationship, and the characteristic complexities of some of Shakespeare’s female protagonists.

Much of the play’s comedy came in the form of the ‘Rude’ Mechanicals, dominated by as the overeager weaver turned actor, Bottom. The actors’ stage presence and physicality greatly enhanced the energy of the play, and was the source of undeniable humour throughout. Unfortunately, there were moments where their movements drowned out parts of the dialogue, but on the whole their performances were a pleasure to behold, particularly in the performance of the ‘play within a play’, Pyramus and Thisbe.

Despite the fact that many of the cast members are relative newcomers to the DST scene, their performances do them credit, and there were very few weak performances overall. Although there were moments when cast members struggled with their lines, this did not detract from the play’s action. Additionally, Ruari Hutchinson (Oberon) and Louise Webster (Puck) were well adept in their scenes, and should be proud of their ability to negotiate some of Shakespeare’s complex speeches to dramatic effect.

However, one element that didn’t quite fit was the music used to transition between scenes. Often the music appeared too jarring, or utterly incongruous with the action that had taken place on stage. The crew had clearly made an effort to pick appropriate songs for their transitions, but to an audience it appeared unnecessary and somewhat detracted from the overall experience.

The design of the set is distinctive from the start. Siddell has clearly made an effort to reshape Hild Bede’s Caedmon Hall into a form of Shakespearean round, enhancing its dramatic feel, and the space available for her actors. Whilst the set design allows the audience to easily perceive the distinction between Athens and the Forest, it causes some inconvenience in later scenes. The audience is positioned between the main and the side stage, which is somewhat awkward in scenes which involve the use of both areas. Moreover, the majority of the action takes place in the Forest, hence the staging design could be seen to be overthought, and somewhat unnecessary.

Overall, HBT’s production of Midsummers Night’s Dream is a light-hearted and humorous take on one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies. The work of the cast and the crewmembers has ensured that the play is accessible and engaging for today’s modern audience, with very few minor hiccups overall. The energy and physicality of the actors does them credit, bringing new life into Shakespeare’s classic, and brightening up even the dreariest of late January days.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream will run until Sat 30 January at Caedmon Hall, Hild Bede. Book your tickets here

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