Friday, 2 April 2021

REVIEW: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a rehearsed reading for the SHAKE Festival

Arriving on the scene in 2019, SHAKE is a Festival born in Suffolk headed by creative director Jenny Hall and promotes workshops, films, talks, music, dance, performance and more on all things Shakespeare. Despite ambitious live programming not possible during the pandemic, the festival has transformed into a digital platform for the meantime which curates online performances. Previous online events include a reading of The Tempest and Sonnets & Carols for Christmas. SHAKE Festival now take on one of Shakespeare's most beloved comedies A Mid Summer Nights Dream, for a live one night only rehearsed reading. Full of magic, love and misunderstandings, the work often lends itself to elaborate imagery, physical comedy and appeals to audiences of all ages. In this rehearsed reading, despite some limitations caused by available technology, the highly talented cast offers an evening of skilful storytelling full of warmth and play.

Set in ancient Greece, the main plot of A Midsummer Nights Dream revolves around four young lovers; Hermia (Máiréad Tyers), Lysander (Barnaby Taylor), Helena (Daniel Bowerbank) and Demetrius (Louis Rudnicki). 

The play begins with Theseus (Dan Stevens), duke of Athens, preparing for his extravagant marriage to Hippolyta (Rebecca Hall), queen of the Amazons, until Egeus, a nobleman, swiftly comes to him with a problem. Egeus wants Hermia, his daughter, to marry Demetrius, who loves her but Hermia is in love with Lysander and refuses. Egeus requests from Theseus that she comply or face the full penalties of the law. Forced to consider her options she is given till the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta to decide what to do. Seeing no other option Hermia and Lysander decide to run away together into the woods. The only person to know their plan is Hermia’s best friend, Helena. However, to make matters more complicated, Helena is in love with Dimitrius and, although loyal to her friend, finds herself compelled to tell Demetrius of Hermia’s betrayal. He subsequently follows Hermia and Helena follows him.

With all four lovers in the woods, unbeknownst to them are others there too. This includes a band of Athenian men rehearsing a play they hope to perform for Theseus and his bride and even more spectacularly Oberon, the fairy king and Titania, his queen (both played again by Dan Stevens and Rebecca Hall) Oberon’s mischievous servant Puck (Wendy Morgan) and other fairies. What ensues can only be described as chaos and confusion, but all in the name of love!

A midsummer nights dream is possibly one of Shakespears play I have seen the most and in many different formats. This rehearsed reading is a unique addition to my list as the stage became a series of individual rectangle box’s on my computer screen each character streamed into.

Despite their physical distance, the young lover’s all had a nuanced connection that harnessed their naivety and passion with ease. Bowerbank as Helena, in particular, was moving in a way I have not experienced from the character and equally found the ridiculous nature of the characters actions in the pursuit of love. Tyers found a centred quality in the feisty Hermia which made it her own, while Taylor and Rudnicki as Lysander and Demetrius made a fun and well-balanced duo.

The pairing of established film and theatre heavyweights Rebecca Hall and Dan Stevens was perfect casting as both mortal and fairy royalty and was a real treat to watch. As Titania, Hall is captivating. She gives the character a warm maternal nature coupled with a commanding presence and the inclusion of young children playing her fairy maidens makes for some heartwarming moments. Stevens as Oberon is charismatic and cunning.

The mechanicals are strong and full of energy. Zoom does not lend itself well to too much movement with many people on screen at once. I, therefore, felt slightly seasick if any of them succumbed to the wonderful physicality embedded into their texts. Their job, I feel, was the hardest of the night and, for the most part, as a collective, they managed to concentrate their humour effectively.

The only downfall I felt of the production was the sound. It can be forgiven that Zoom will have an effect on sound quality and it would be wrong to expect all actors to have necessary microphones and equipment at home to record on during these times, however, because of this disparity in sound amongst the cast, I had to constantly readjust the volume of my speaker to get the best auditory experience.

Being a one-off live rehearsed reading means that this performance has come and gone as fast as fairies in the forest. If you missed it, be sure to catch whatever comes out of SHAKE Festival next, I definitely will be!  

Review by Stephanie Osztreicher

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Online | Price of Ticket: £10per household
Blog Design by pipdig