The thing about William Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream is… Well, it’s just nonsense, isn’t it?
Don’t anyone write in, I’m not having a crack at the Immortal Bard. I happen to rather like the unruly vigour of the play. But it is effervescent nonsense. There are weddings, faeries, love potions, eloping lovers, rude mechanicals, amateur dramatics and donkey-headed Bottom all “held together by a weak and idle theme” and jostling for the audience’s attention. For this play to be staged well requires great energy, wit and lightness of touch, so I’m pleased to report that the good people of Gatecrash Theatre brought all three to the Art Centre stage.
I should start by making reference to the staging: the Art Centre auditorium was decked with fairy lights that blazed into life at various points of the play. The set was a festival yard simply, but effectively constructed from pallets, crates and other recycled materials. On the cyclorama behind the action a blaze of colours, like light pollution, dreamily phased its way through the spectrum and back throughout the play (although, if I’m being picky, this did make it difficult to make out some of the actor’s faces when they were up-stage).
Also good use was made of the whole auditorium throughout. With a cast of 19 and the natural snugness of the Art Centre stage the action could have been cramped, but with aisle, the well in front of the stage and all the entrances being utilised the play had space to breathe. The only time things did get a little crowded on stage was during the Rude Mechanicals’ play-within-a-play when the players were jostling a little for space. This, however, was probably unavoidable given the nature of the scene.
I’m not always a fan of superfluous modern dialogue being shoe-horned into Shakespeare productions. Doing so often smacks of self-indulgence and laziness to me. However, the anarchic nature of Midsummer Night’s Dream suited the contemporary music, song and asides that were seeded throughout the play to great comic and dramatic affect.
I was also pleased that the actors playing the four young lovers in the magical forest (Jamie Carter, Daniella Faircloth, Oli Meredeth and Caera Coveney) were able to inject a lot of good comedy business into their scenes. The four characters can come across as rather anodyne in some productions, especially compared to the adventures of Puck, Titania, Bottom and the other Mechanicals, so their Love Island-style bickering added much fun to their part of the story.
The highlights of any good production of Midsummer Night’s Dream invariably include the misadventures of Bottom, Quince and the other Athenian tradesman and this one didn’t disappoint. Keira C Georgeson’s plays the Nick Bottom, as a boorish but likable ham, Kathy Sterry played Peter Quince was weary fussiness and Rosie Walker made an adorable lion as Snug the joiner. Georgeson is also very entertaining when Jayma Voorheis’ regal yet coquettish Titania is stalking her with a eye to luring the donkey-headed weaver into her bower.
The whole cast were uniformly strong, but in addition to the above I must also mention Lucy Payne as Puck. She paints the sprite as a cheeky, Artful Dodger-eque figure, a pleasingly arch presence threading herself through the action on the stage and hovering cagily in her interactions with the stern and upright King of the Faeries, Oberon (Kerry McNally).
This was a bold, funny and accessible production of one of Shakespeare’s best-known comedies played with verve and a well-judged tongue in its cheek. Puck need not have worried. These shadows have not offended.