by William Shakespeare
Method And Madness
OK, we at TLT Towers, one reviewer plus a puckish sidekick (no wings, but hey, TLT's jalopy is no Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!), are game for all sorts of productions. And this one is a curious one.
Yet another A Midsummer's Night's Dream (AMND), this time stripped down like the wood flooring traverse stage it's played on. With just seven actors. And directed by Simon Evans whose Bug we enjoyed.
Well, there's a bug in this version of AMND - or maybe a couple of separate bugs since both get slapped down separately by actors entering the magic forest. And this is a very actorly Dream with quite a few rewrites, rejigs and reorderings but it also treads a dangerous path through the woods - in danger of becoming the thing it is parodying.
Yet in the midst of it, there are some very good young actors on display here. Yes, I should say this is a production filled with young actors. We're not sure if the cast will be infuriated or will laugh at we mortal bloggers' foolish ways if we say the team of actors led by Freddie Fox but it seems to be his Ovidian transformation on the cover of the programme (see my associated Tweet - like it, retweet it, send me a tweet to plight your troth or whatever you like).
However he may be harking back to the method of another English actor who, according to Sir Peter Hall here, did not seek to be loved by his audience.
For we see a group of actors meeting in a rehearsal room for a performance of AMND with Freddie who plays Demetrius and Bottom definitely cock of the walk. That's Freddie Fox again, of course (dahling!), not Freddie Hutchins who plays Lysander and mechanical Flute - the dilemma of what to do with two Freddies is, in fact the subject of a good, telling actorly joke which gets rather lost in the fray.
But somehow the introduction then of elements and costuming from children's tales felt more like incestuous theatrical references than an opening up of the text. But maybe the hierarchy of acting is the point, just as "dwarf" Hermia, despite being equal in height, has to make herself small beside "maypole" Helena (Lucy Eaton) to fit the part.
There's also a touch of the Play Gone Wrong in this production and it was as if we'd been lured into an experimental part of another project rather than a stand alone AMND.
There are some witty ideas but also an overstepping of the tightrope into - yes what we said before - becoming that which it was trying to parody.
The verse speaking and other lines (it's a fast and loose AMND) ranges from the acoustically muffled to the crystal clear and entrancing with some occasional skilful interpretation. Theseus (Ludovic Hughes who also doubles as Oberon) takes on an intriguing inciting role while ex Eastender Maddy Hill goes from supple Titania to stage manager Peter Quince complete with red rasta cap, French onion man come mime artiste outfit with (badly drawn) moustache.
But we have to ask, while wishing to remain playful rather than utilitarian, who or what is it for? For example, is it a parody of or primer for exam multiple choice when we're told that the Dream is about the weather?
Was someone reading our mind when it struck us that all it needed was for a famous Hollywood alumnus of the actors' studio to appear and then lo and behold mini skirted (Julie Christie lookalike|) Susie Preece did a louche impersonation of the said same star?
Yes, it was one of those performance that you have to resign yourself to picking out the sweetest flowers, while wishing you could take the whole bunch in hand and let them do the beautifully-spoken straightforward version which you glimpse through the chink in the wall.
Talking of which, it's allocated seating, so if you're in the front row and not keen on being picked for audience participation, you may want to do a swift changeling swapping of seats. Everyone's so busy (there's a lot of running around and shouting), we don't think they'll notice.
At the same time, the competition between the two Freddies culminates in a truly visceral Pyramus and Thisbe scene with an interesting and, while couched in the cotton wool of hilarity and still suitable for children's consumption, truly painful echo of current affairs.
It could prove to be a show that should have been sponsored by Marmite. If you live up to type, you may have the reaction you've walked into a particularly chaotic theatre-in-education performance. Or like the photogenic young redhead boy in the audience on the night we attended, you may join in with gusto and collapse in fits of giggles and joy.
So TLT and her little sapling felt like two little lost boys without their own gang in the midst of this forest of frenzy without a Puck in dungarees (Melanie Fullbrook) or a Theseus to sort things out even with a closing magical moment which made them recall Metro Goldwyn Mayer's famous slogan. .
Hell, we think, why didn't they go hell for leather and create a new play about actors taking on A Midsummer Night's Dream? As it stands, we'll repeat for the third time, despite some clever touches, it felt as if it became what it was parodying, so it's a slippery elm amber light.