Shakespeare often seems to come in cycles, with several productions of the same play on at once in different venues. At the moment, it’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream though it’s a common summer favourite anyway. With so much competition, individual productions need to distinguish themselves from the rest as well as have a distinctive concept, even if that concept is to stick to tradition. New company Wildcard takes a modern approach to the play and adds quite a bit of music, but a range of performance abilities, homogenous delivery and few unique elements make this production feel like a student or recent graduate production. There is a lack of confidence in the direction and the concept is not new or exciting, apart from the use of music. Though it has some good performances, this production isn’t awful, but is largely forgettable.
Amongst the thirteen actors, a few distinguish themselves from the rest of the company. Natasha Killam is a fantastic Hermia, in love, expressive and fully committed to the role. The hipster has an emo best friend in Helena, who plays the character with a dull indifference. Whilst this makes sense to the character stereotype, it’s boring to watch – though this is likely to be a directorial choice. Peter Dewhurst as a townie Demetrius is also very good, eventually matched by Joshua Leese’s hippie Lysander after Puck drugs him in the forest. As representatives from four distinct social tribes, the likelihood of them being in love in real life, let alone friends, is rather implausible, though. A sulking Helena dressed all in black in love with a polo shirted, jumper round the shoulders, Demetrius? Really? This is another of director James Meteyard’s inexperienced and unjustified decisions.
The most inspired casting is Theseus and Oberon as a woman (both played by Abi McLoughlin), a nice touch but still shows the power imbalance between them and Titania and Hippolyta (Rhiannon Sommers). There are a few female mechanicals (Elly Lowney as Starveling, Christie Peto as Snug and Harriet Ruffer as Quince), which is also great to see. With seven of the thirteen actors women, it goes some way in adding diversity in the entirely white cast of whom nearly all have identical, Home Counties accents and all look to be about the same age. The character types represented are also generally associated with white, middle class people, further showing a blatant lack of diversity in race or social class. Whilst this isn’t an issue in and of itself, it is most definitely a sign of the lack of diversity in theatre.
Some of the lighting design is pretty to look at, though some of the changes are so dramatic that attention is drawn to the lights rather than the performance. There are some pretty strings of fairy lights, but these add to the studenty feel of the piece. There are a couple of retro easy chairs that initially look out of place, but are used well to comedic effect later in the play.
Meteyard tries to further update by adding off-text dialogue and heaps of verbal pauses, Most of which cause the energy and pace to drop. There’s also a lot of slow, even delivery, particularly in the first half, across most of the characters. Fortunately, it picks up up in the lovers’ best scene, which is played well and gets plenty of laughs. He seems to have little experience directing Shakespeare, though he excels with the music. Puck sings most of his monologues, which is really lovely (though why is he in leather trousers, topless and covered in glitter?) and the mechanicals accompany both onstage and off, creating a rich soundscape.
With the music the strongest element of the production, particularly at the end with a delightfully surprising jig, it’s not all pedestrian. But this young company is still very much finding their feet with classical work.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs through 23 July.
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