Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream at Grosvenor Park ****
Grosvenor Park has tweaked its MO this season, taking its usual ‘family’ show out of the theatre and into the park in a promenade performance for tinies and their adults.
But there’s still very much also sit down theatre-in-the-round for young ones in the form of arguably Shakespeare’s most accessible play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, packed with magic, music and general silliness.
If director Elvi Piper doesn't quite put a girdle round about the earth in 40 minutes, she does create a snappily delivered ‘Dream’ which comes in at a smidgeon over two hours including interval.
And her canny decision to relocate the enchanted world of the fairies to a travelling circus certainly helps to captivate not only younger members of her audience but to thoroughly charm we older folk too.
Designer Adam Wiltshire’s playful circus costumes bear more than a passing nod to early 80s pop videos (Prince Charming and Ashes to Ashes immediately spring to mind). Meanwhile the young Athenian mismatched lovers who wander into the fairies’ glade are all post-war chic, and the delightful Rude Mechanicals are delineated by early 20th Century workwear.
Piper’s pacy action ping-pongs back and forth across the woodbark staging between the Athens court, where Daniel Burke’s Theseus lays down the law, and the amateur artisan actors, led by James McLean’s Peter Quince, preparing a faintly preposterous play – Pyramus and Thisbe – for the duke’s impending nuptials.
When it relocates to the forest domain of the fairies things are dialled up a notch further, with the actor-musicians bringing plenty of energy and keen comic timing to proceedings.
Burke has a lot of fun doubling as an artful Oberon, who has a few crowd-pleasing conjuring tricks up his sleeve – literally, while Molly-Grace Cutler, fresh from playing Carole King on tour, is the sprightliest of sprites and also plays mean guitar and piano in a show which uses fitting lyrics from pop songs to underscore the storytelling.
Because of the repertory nature of the Grosvenor Park season (Shakespeare runs in tandem with The Great Gatsby this year), there’s often a certain amount of casting across the boundaries of sex.
Here, Alyce Liburd, who impressed in Now Is Good at Storyhouse last spring, actually becomes a female Lysander, while Victoria Brazier is joyous as ‘Nicki’ Bottom, a comically garrulous woman weaver (dressed as a land girl) who is transformed into an ass and becomes the “little clippity clopitty” object of Titania’s affection.
Conversely, the fairy queen Titania – swaggeringly played by Laurie Jamieson, is realised as a rambunctious Scotsman who likes a drink and a party. Jamieson also doubles as the more sedate Hippolyta, again as a bloke.
It’s very entertaining, and wittily executed. But as Shakespeare purists might point out, it does have a bit of a bearing on the patriarchal power dynamic within the Bard’s late 16th Century text.
Along with reducing the theatre season from three productions to two, another change for 2023 is captioning, with the text running on two screens hung from the top of the covered terraces.
This is of benefit not only for those with a hearing impairment, but also for moments when it’s just difficult to decipher the dialogue – one or two cast members need to project more to reach all the seats in the 360-degree auditorium, particularly when doing battle with the elements, noisy traffic, or (on Saturday afternoon) tannoy announcements from the Roodee a mile away.
As in previous years, the cast includes two trainee thesps. Lara Field and Kameron Skeene make a fine wall and lion respectively as Snout and Snug, and also appear as travelling players.
A Midsummer Night's Dream runs in rep until the end of August.
Top: Victoria Brazier as Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Mark McNulty.