I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun watching one of Shakespeare’s plays than Filter Theatre and the Lyric Hammersmith’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Well, to be fair, vast chunks of this production’s text didn’t come from the Bard’s pen, but it’s surprising how well co-directors Stef Driscoll and Sean Homes have captured the madcap spirit of the play.
The performance begins with an announcement from Ed Gaughan, as Peter Quince, who thanks us all for coming to the show and gives a brief rundown of all that’s to come and how this bunch of British actors came to be in Brisbane. This production premiered in London in 2012, but this opening speech has been entirely rewritten, specifically for Brisbane, and it’s funny as hell.
During the speech on opening night, he also promised that a particular home-grown, Oscar-winning actor will be making an appearance in the role of Bottom, in keeping with a grand Lyric Hammersmith tradition of guest stars in the role.
I don’t want to give away too much of what happened, because the best thing about this production is how often it surprises.
Let’s just say: there’s blue paint thrown around the stage with wild abandon, set pieces destroyed as the performance goes on, brilliant musical numbers sure to rock any dreamer out of their slumber, an Oberon dressed head-to-toe in blue lycra, and the best food fight I’ve ever seen on stage.
The mechanicals are played by the retro kitsch band London Snorkelling Team, who sound a little something like the B-52s pushed through a ’90s video game, and are the driving force of the production.
There’s just a touch of poignancy here — the young lovers in this play certainly go through a lot, and Titania and Oberon’s relationship is a complex and fraught one — but the focus is almost entirely on the comedic. Harry Jardine is superb as a man-child Oberon, reframing much of the play’s conflict as the result of his tantrums, while Francesca Zoutewelle and Clare Dunne both deliver Shakespeare’s text gorgeously.
More than anything, this is a superb, fast-moving, constantly evolving piece of entertainment which slays the audience in the aisles — it’s rare to hear a crowd laughing this enthusiastically in any piece of theatre. We all know that Shakespeare’s works were the popular entertainment of his day and this production certainly is popular entertainment for today.
Shakespeare purists might object to this total reconstruction of the Dream (which at times borders on parody of the play itself), but I can’t think of any better way to honour the play than this ribald riot. Just go and see for yourself.
Featured image by Tristram Kenton