Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Kate Sagovsky
Movement Director: Joe Wild
Reviewer: Rosie Wheat
The Public Reviews Rating:
Throw the usual Athenian pillars and fairy-light forest out the window, Director Kate Sagovsky plonks Midsummer Night’s Dream in London’s redeveloping wastelands for the 2012 Olympics. Upon seeing the set of the inside of a builder’s office, complete with desk, laptop and fan, you might check your programme to make sure it’s the right play.
However, despite a rather more crude setting, Sagovsky is determined to draw the same magic that has enchanted audiences for centuries. The story is a well known one; the rich Athenian lord Theseus rules with authority, the repressed lovers escape to a forest that is without boundaries or social pressure, the Mechanicals draw laughs from their farcical antics, and the Fairy King and Queen wage a passionate war against each other for a changeling boy… yet by placing the play in the present, Sagovsky draws parallels to our modern world with startling clarity. What else could the young lovers represent but youth discontent, so long repressed that when it finally exploded, the London Riots were the shocking result? Or the widening gap between upper and lower class more clearly distinguished by Theseus as the braying manager of the building site, and the Mechanicals as his bumbling builders?
It is incredible to witness one of my favourite plays morph into a contemporary and near-political piece that is both familiar and modern.
Such a bold theme by Sagovsky could only have been successful with an excellent cast, and the Cambridge Marlowe Society did not disappoint. The actors speak the lines so colloquially, that occasionally it seems as if they are improvising. Each and every one of them has Shakespeare wrapped around their little fingers. The natural standout is Alex MacKeith, whose portrayal of Bottom as a builder is utterly perfect – it is as if you were watching a newly-discovered stand-up comedian at the Apollo. However, credit must also go to parts that are more difficult to play, such as the character Helena, who is often interpreted as a whiny singleton. But when Ellie Nunn enters, complete with punky leather jacket and Ray-Bans, it’s quite clear that Helena is to be refreshing, funny, and a delight to watch. It is perhaps fortunate that Bottom and Helena weren’t in a scene together, as it is hard to tell who would have upstaged who.
Sagovsky and the cast attack Shakespeare’s trickiest scenes with creative vigour, particularly the chaotic scene between Lysander and Demetrius, who’s sudden change in affections shocks and bemuses Helena and Hermia. The potential pitfalls of this infamously difficult scene are overcome by the actors’ well timed physical comedy and inventive staging. Further proof, if needed, of the time spent experimenting the different ways of portraying Shakespeare’s immortal lines in a new light.
The superb dancing chorus adds another layer of otherworldliness to this already complex piece. The transgressive beauty of these dances creates a fluidity that pushes the play forward like a roll of silk, a device clearly nurtured by the Movement Director, Joe Wild. Most mesmeric is the relationship between Oberon and his Puck, who’s powerful, near-sexual relationship is recreated in a compelling choreography that reveals the darkness in Oberon’s hold over Puck.
The collaboration of an excellent cast and imaginative director creates a truly unique A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It doesn’t matter if you have seen it before; it is guaranteed that you will feel like you’re watching a completely new play.
Runs until Saturday 25th February
A Midsummer Night’s Dream - Arts Theatre, Cambridge,