Thursday 17 August 2017

A Midsummer Night's Dream

16th August, 2017

‘And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream’

Nick Winston’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes ‘dreaming’ to the extreme in this surreal modern fairy tale. Since Curve opened 9 years ago, their annual community productions have become a highlight of the local and theatrical calendar, and their latest offering is no exception.

Utilising a cast of over 60, Winston populates the vast stage with detail, both human and mythic – a tavern comes to bustling life with comely wenches, couples dancing, and the occasional brawl, while the play begins with a brief tableau of the magical wood featuring a menagerie of legendary creatures, from fairies to centaurs, charmingly establishing the production’s colourful, storybook aesthetic. Fairy tales are a continual reference, notably in Kevin Jenkin’s set: a turfed copse features rough-hewn stone and wild grasses against a backdrop of twisted trees, silhouetted against an ever-changing sky. The bramble-like snare of the trees reminded me of the threatening woods in Sleeping Beauty, an apt comparison, considering the role that sleep and dreams plays in Shakespeare’s drama.

Edd Lindley’s costumes are intricate and lush, even in their odd mish-mash of styles. From Game Of Thrones-esque Medieval garb, to Regency and Edwardian era fashions, the Athenian world of the Dream never feels fully grounded in any specific place, as if the whole story could be told, word-of-mouth, from generation to generation until it loses all sense of realism. Ironically, the vision of the Fairy world here seems much more concrete, using a blend of steampunk and hip hop to create a vivid identity for the magical creatures that neatly separates them from their human counterparts.

Supporting this is a unique and fresh assortment of music, both of existing songs and Ben Harrison’s original music, from the ethereally ambient in Oberon (Simon Butler) and Titania’s (Demi Hylands) scenes, to blasts of dubstep for the mischievous Puck. A beautifully sung rendition of Norah Jones’ ‘Come Away With Me’ tenderly draws the relationship between Titania and her fairy helpers, while The Carpenters’ ‘Close To You’ is given the Bottom treatment in an amusing addition to the text.

Tonally and thematically, Winston’s vision is sweet natured. Eschewing the darkness and cruelty that seeps into some productions (I’m recalling in particular the 2016 BBC adaptation in which Theseus is painted as a fascist dictator – still great, just different), this is a warm, comforting version, akin to a cosy bedtime story. Hippolyta (Hannah Willars) is willing, Theseus (Alphonso Christie) is a grounded and benevolent leader, and Titania and Oberon reunite, hand in hand with the changeling boy they previously warred over - continuing the fairytale theme, ‘And they all lived happily ever after’ seems a fitting summation.

As always, I’m astounded at the local talent on display in Curve’s community productions. Megan Marston is gently engaging as Hermia, a fine counterpoint to Lauren Jones’ feisty Helena, while the intriguing decision to dual cast Puck works surprisingly well, Mahesh Parmar and Joel Fossard-Jones are both individual in performance yet perfectly synchronised when needs be. Puck’s transcendental abilities here take on a new significance as the character flits through time and space and his echoing physicality occupies the very air around the characters. Yet, as is often the case with Shakespeare’s Dream, the Mechanicals steal the show with their earthy humour and earnest desire to please. Alexander Clifford’s Bottom manages to remain immensely likeable despite the character’s excitable egocentricity, while James Cottis’ Flute fares well as both Panto Dame and tender actor in the Pyramus and Thisbe scene. I say this time and again, but with these productions and Curve’s dedication to inclusivity and nurturing of young talent, it really does feel like we are witnessing the stars of the future.

Winston’s Shakespearean hybrid gets away with being slightly bonkers by merit of the dreamy, mythical quality it bestows on the narrative. It was lovely to see the joy on the audiences’ faces come curtain call. This is Shakespeare at its most accessible and the production revels in the romance, humour and magic of the Bard’s work.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays at Curve, Leicester until 20th August.

The company of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Credit: Pamela Raith Photography

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