Despite beginning in a school detention room, Shakespeare’s tale of love, mischief, reluctant brick structures and useless lions is played out against the more conventional background of an enchanted forest that is in constant flux between the real and the not so real. While Oberon plots to outwit his fairy-queen Titania, through floral foul play, Peter Quince, tries his best to control his fellow players and somehow deliver the trials and tribulations of Pyramus and Thisbe, for the delight of Hippolyta and Theseus, the newly married Duke and Duchess of Athens.
The able cast of this production carry the beloved tale with energy and believable passion, indeed Lysander and Demetrius are at points as much testosterone ruled school boys as they are rutting stags, within the enchanted forest. Liam Mansfield and Rebecca Mayer give commanding, sensuous performances as Oberon and Titania; unlike other interpretations, Custom/Practice are not afraid to demonstrate the sexual tension entwined in their argument and the more passionate and lustful moments are refreshing. Shane Frater is both majestic and engaging as the trickster, Puck. His authorial role as the teacher, Philostrate, translates perfectly to the puppeteer of Shakespeare’s comedy; he seamlessly connects the two contexts in the first instance with an impressive hypnotic ability!
It is the players, and in particular their production, however, that is this performance’s greatest success. The incessant fussing of Peter Quince is dynamically portrayed by Rebecca Loudon whose animation leaves her almost bounding from the stage at points; the maintenance of this energy throughout is most impressive, given the multi-role work expected of the small cast. Lorenzo Martelli’s performance of the ignorant ass, Bottom, is charming and raises many a laugh but it is his final dance, a combination of street and folk in style, that wins over both the young and old. A tottering Thisbe in a blue body con, a suggestive Man in the Moon and a seriously nonplussed lion make up this questionable troupe and work well together to produce a penultimate scene of just really good fun!
The production is visually enchanting; levels and pillows are created from the nature of the forest and the lighting by Simon Bond takes real life into the fairy world and back out again. When Puck transforms again into the shaded and suited teacher, the rolling windows smoothly place us back at our classroom desks.
Though modern crazes, a dance style or a film theme, do pervade Shakespeare’s work, they are most welcome additions to Custom/ Practice’s interpretation. A fantastically funny version of Shakespeare’s woodland comedy, accessible to both the young and the old, to both avid fans of the Bard and first timers.
All images by Hugo Glendinning
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at the Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 2nd March. For ticket information go to: http://www.nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk/whats-on/drama/a-midsummer-nights-dream/