Sunday, 22 May 2022

REVIEW: A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Reading Rep

I have had the most rare vision. I had a dream: A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A play within a dressing room within a play within a theatre… I hope you’re following! 

Paul Stacey’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Athenian comedy is set in a dressing room of a theatre, with the set emulating the rough-and-ready backstage areas that will be familiar to anyone who has crossed the threshold at a theatre. Dressing tables, boxes, instruments, and costume rails make up the space, with a scaffolding tower dominating the stage in front of an enormous moon. The actors arrive for work (and yoga) before the dominating director bounds in and decides to workshop his new play ‘Bottoms Dream’ which will be performed for the Jubilee. From here we go on a journey through an abridged version of the Elizabethan classic, with modern twists and feverish energy. 

The direction from Paul Stacey and Chris Cumming does away with most of the conventions that you may expect from a Shakespeare play. The actors easily move between their actor characters and their Shakespearean characters, showing wonderful distinction both between the two and between their multirole characters within the Athenian world. David Fishley’s Oberon is powerful and distinguished, and his voice resonates around the theatre with strength and heart.

Set pieces double up in both worlds of the performance and are rarely used for their intended purpose. Clothes rails become hiding places, ladders become trees, a scaffolding tower becomes Titania's bed. The cast and creatives have cleverly marked out a playing area where most of the Midsummer action happens, with the rest of the stage often being reserved for the actors outside of that specific world. Ladders, whilst symbolising trees, also act as an entrance to this playing space and help define its outer edges, as well as adding levels to the piece to make it more dynamic. Congratulations to Amy Watts for her clever and innovative design. Simeon Miller’s lighting design adds an element of magic to the forest, with fairy lights twinkling delicately. Miller also helps highlight which world we are in through the use of colour and excitement in the design.

Whilst this is a million miles away from a musical, the musical elements add an interesting and engaging layer to the performance and are a wonderful interlude and juxtaposition to the sometimes heavy text. We are thrust full-throttle into some disco classics with everyone cheering along, especially during the curtain call.

All six of the players on stage are brilliant and engaging in their delivery of both the original text and Stacey’s adaptations. Whilst some of the classical language is some times lost, overall, it’s a fair stab. I would have liked some more clarity through some of the monologues and soliloquies, and more secure accents. This would have ensured our engagement throughout, which admittedly sometimes lacked. 

In conclusion, Reading Rep’s production is full of life and colour and performed with fervour and delight. Whilst it may have missed the mark in some places, I left with a spring in my step and a recommendation to my friends! Think but this; this 90-minute production is all-out camp madness. If that doesn’t sell tickets, I don’t know what will!

Review by Max Topliss

Rating: ★★★

Price of Ticket: £23 (Stalls)
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