Mr Monkey sees A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Royal Exchange Theatre, 9th July
Mr Monkey scampered into Manchester for the press night of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
He checked the poster outside, then strolled in to collect his tickets.
Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night's Dream between 1590 and 1596, and it is apparently one of his most performed plays.
There are three groups in the play. A group of workmen - rude mechanicals who are not natural actors - are rehearsing a play they intend to put on to celebrate the wedding of Theseus, the king of Athens, and Hippolyta, the conquered queen of the Amazons. Another group, four young Athenian aristocrats have relationship problems - Hermia loves Lysander, Helena loves Demetrius, but unfortunately Lysander and Demetrius both love Hermia. To complicate things more, Hermia's father insists she marry Demetrius and claims that Athenian law gives him the right to kill her if she refuses. Outside Athens, Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of the Fairies, are arguing over who gets to keep a stolen child.
The mechanicals leave Athens to practice their play in private. Lysander and Hermia flee Athens to escape Athenian law and get married, Demetrius pursues them to kill Lysander, and Helena pursues Demetrius on the off-chance that he might change his mind about her. The two groups of humans get caught in a combination of Fairie malignancy and incompetence, and a variety of unintended consequnces ensue. Everything ends better than it started, and no-one gets killed.
Mr Monkey - and someone in the seat behind him - had been wondering how Filter Theatre were going to fit everything into 75 minutes (with no interval). He soon found out that they had dropped some of the text of the play; broadly speaking, most of the mechanicals parts have been replaced with modern text and a fair amount of slapstick. One result is that the play is funny even if you haven't studied it at school; on the down side, some lines are drowned out by the audience laughing. The aristocrats and the fairies keep most of their Shakesperian speech.
The set is simple, consisting of just a concrete catwalk and a shower, with a lot of musical equipment around the edge of the stage. The mix of drums, guitar and keyboards is used to provide music at various points during the play; Mr Monkey felt that the volume of the music tended to obscure the words of the songs. The musical equipment is also used to great effect to create hordes of fairies who exist only as sound effects. Mr Monkey thought that the combination of sound moving from speaker to speaker and actors reacting to the movement of the sound worked very well.
An important part of the production is that the mechanicals are changed from comic relief to largely being the centre of the performance. Ed Gaughan's Quince starts the production by trying to persuade the audience to ask for a refund because of a famous actor being stuck in a lift and continues to improvise and initiate audience participation throughout the play. The excellent running gag of Bottom being played an audience member who volunteers to replace the missing actor is taken as far as handing out his CV at the end of the performance. The mechanicals also double as musicians throughout.
Jonathan Broadbent plays Oberon very well as a strangely inept figure clad in ridiculous blue lycra given to falling over or through things. His Theseus is somewhat nerdy. Ferdy Roberts plays Puck as a rather sinister figure, towering over over Oberon and stamping around in a bad temper. Poppy Miller is good as Titania but her Hippolyta has very little to do.
The Athenians are very well played by a talented group of actors having to deliver Shakespearian lines in contrast to the modern language of the mechanicals. Mr Monkey found it difficult at first to switch his brain between the two and still be able to follow the punchy fast-paced delivery. Overall this did not prevent him from following the story and did not detract from his enjoyment of the performance.
Mr Monkey can see that some people might not enjoy this somewhat irreverent version of a much-loved play, but he thoroughly enjoyed an excellent and innovative production.
A Midsummer Night's Dream runs until August 4th 2012.