Thespians are a superstitious breed. It was an auspicious sign, that on the opening night of Adna Duherich’s production, New Theatre was bathed in the ethereal glow of moonlight under a cloudless sky: the perfect setting for a Dream.
It is a minor quibble that before the show began; the audience was ironically treated to their own Winter’s Tale enduring a teeth-chattering wait outside before being seated. However, this grievance is promptly dispelled upon entry to the theatre which, thanks to Gus Miller’s minimalist design, is transformed into a surreal oxymoron of an Elizabethan disco awash with UV light and an illuminated globe to represent the governing moon. The audience is immediately beguiled by Sophie Tebbutt’s hauntingly beautiful choreography. Titania’s eerie ensemble of statuesque fairies is seductive in white gliding nimbly across the centre stage.
The artwork of Fran Rylands and Chloe Bridgen captures the essence of the forest via a painted leaf
strewn floor which is fittingly underscored by Angus MacRae’s original score replete with a repertoire of woodland sounds that immediately immerses the audience into an oneiric otherworld.
Frankie Andrews’ costume design is contemporary but cautious to belie the ages of the young troupe, aptly transposing Egeus into a stern and officious businessman. Flourishes of purple and white are artfully employed to connote the oscillation between the pomp of Athens and the spiritual Wonderland of the forest. Meanwhile, the quartet of lovers is similarly distinguishable by their mono-tonal attire, Demetrius’ burgundy shirt notably indicative of his fiery temperament. Perhaps the most memorable, and arresting, costume amongst the mechanicals was Lyle Fulton’s Thisbe, donning a pink veil and floral dress, which pays homage to the Shakespearean tradition of shameless cross-dressing males.
Gus Miller’s directorial decision to cast Will Randall and Lucy Bromilow as both Theseus and Hippolyta and Oberon and Titania is a masterstroke. The juxtaposition between Athens and the forest is effectively made apparent by the differing personas of each character played by the same actors. Furthermore, Miller subverts the Elizabethan idea of patriarchal control for his contemporary audience in allowing Titania to repeatedly emasculate Oberon. The audience is seated ‘in the round’ effectively encircling the action. Titania reprimands her husband who stands enfeebled in the centre of the stage while he is circled by Titania’s fairies and the stagnant audience.
The quartet of lovers is scintillating in their respective roles. Cressida McGill’s Hermia is a veritable firecracker effectively playing on her petite stature, most notably in her unbridled hair-tugging duel with Helena. Her female counter-part, Helena played by Meg Salter, displays all the poise of a multifaceted actress. She poignantly conveys pathos through her soliloquies while igniting humour through her repeated rejection of the male characters entreaties. Alistair Mavor succeeds as a faintly goofy hot-headed Demetrius while Chris Walters’ Lysander plays the role of deluded lover with comic charm. While there are no outright weak links in the cast, one might wish to effuse Eoin Buckley’s Puck with more whimsy, who shows glimpses of such, deftly prancing around the stage in small instances.
That said the outright star of the show is undeniably Ben Williamson’s larger than life, Nick Bottom. As so often with the Dream, the comedy scenes come off best, which Williamson achieves with aplomb through outlandish comic gesticulation and an endearing exuberance rarely seen in amateur theatre. The aesthetic mismatch of Titania and Bottom, clad in a chicken wire donkey mask, caused rapturous laughter while the Pyramus-Thisbe scene is a tour de force in melodramatic bad acting. The mechanicals also deserve their due recognition although the licentious content of their play involving an ingenious and bawdy use of Snout as Wall ended the play on a deserved high note.
Although not entirely seamless throughout with the occasional missed cue or forgotten line, errors were few and far between that even the Bard himself would forgive. For all those nostalgic for a summer long-passed, this truly riveting performance packed with unbridled energy, laughter and whimsy by all those involved.