Friday, 21 February 2020

REVIEW: A Midsummer Night Dream at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury

A Midsummers Night Dream is perhaps Shakespeare's best known and most accessible play and the famous lines pop up throughout any production. But its very popularity means anyone approaching producing the play seeks to find a different way of staging the show to differentiate it from what has gone before. Paul Hart's production returns to the Watermill after a run at the Wilton Music Hall and he sets it as a troupe of Victorian music hall musicians putting on the play on a bare stage with just a couple of stage cloths. He also follows the general trend for gender blind casting with a female Bottom and female Puck in an Ensemble cast of ten (5 males, 5 females) and adds 20th century music to freshen up the presentation played by actor musicians. It's a nice idea and for the most part works very well but occasionally the energy drops and then it feels laboured and overdone.

Victoria Blunt as Bottom (until 22 February when she is replaced by Emma Barclay who was so funny recently at The Watermill in One million tiny plays about Britain) steals the show with her joyous expressive face and high energy, she is able to make the most of the comic opportunities . She brings a fresh feel to her dreamy liaison with Titania as an ass (with a simple headdress and glorious buck teeth) and revels in her interruptions in the Mechanicals scenes. I have no doubt that Emma Barclay will be able to do the same.

Billy Postlewaite feels underused as Lysander. He has a great physical presence on stage and uses his eyes wonderfully to scan the audience. Indeed, it is the ladies of the star-crossed lovers with Robyn Sinclair as the infatuated Helena and Lucy Keirl as the eloping Hermia who seem to dominate their scenes together with him and Mike Slader as Demetrius. They have an excellent fight scene with Tom Jackson Greaves once again showing his influence as Movement Director.

Emma McDonald makes Titania a very sexy seductress in Victorian underwear as she falls for Bottom and Jamie Satterwaite as Oberon gets to sing the 1956 hit “I put a spell on you” as he casts his spell over the lovers and creates the confusion at the heart of this play. It is followed by 1934 classic Rodgers and Hart song “Blue Moon” as they settle to sleep in the woods under a circle of lights. 

The fairies are rather curiously dressed in top hats and tails with coloured rosettes on their lapels leaning more towards a Music Hall act than mischievous imps with Puck played by Molly Chesworth adding the magic through some simple tricks effectively delivered as she speaks. 

Most of the cast double up as the Mechanicals to perform the play within the play with the addition of Peter Mooney as Quince and Tom Sowinski as Snout. As they say “it’s a play about ten words long, but in my opinion its about ten words too long. That’s why its tedious”. They perform it first in silhouette behind the curtain and then again downstage with Snout in Victorian bathing costume playing Wall. It felt like watching Mischief Theatre do “the play that went wrong”, very hammy and overdone and in the end living up to its billing as tedious!

However, before Robin Goodfellow (Puck) gets to “sweep the dust behind the door” like the stage manager closing up the Theatre we have a rousing version of the 1958 hit “My baby just cares for me” which brings the performance for an upbeat celebratory conclusion.

Paul Hart’s trademark Actor/Musician shows are always entertaining to watch, and this Ensemble cast is very good so it makes an enjoyable evening but with this title I wanted to feel more spellbound and enchanted than they were able to achieve.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row E | Price of Ticket: £31
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