Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, Headlong Theatre Company, New Wolsey Theatre until Saturday.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, Headlong Theatre Company, New Wolsey Theatre until Saturday.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, Headlong Theatre Company, New Wolsey Theatre until Saturday.

One of the wonderful things about Shakespeare is that his plays are supremely adaptable. They can be set and made to fit into almost any period in history.

Ian McKellen’s famous re-imagining of Richard III in a mythical 1930s Fascist Britain shows how well even the most dramatic re-locations can work and this was clearly the approach that the Headlong Theatre Company and director Natalie Abrahami opted for in their, at times, hysterically funny production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Shakespeare’s classic comedy was moved from the leafy glades of ancient Athens to a 1960s Hollywood film set, where director Robin P Goodfellow (aka Puck) is shooting a Cleopatra-like epic, starring Theseus and Hippolyta – who bear an uncanny resemblance to Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.


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It’s a clever conceit and certainly the initial scene-setting works very well indeed – particularly when the opening titles for the imaginary film are run while the grips and sparks are getting the studio ready for shooting.

But, as the play proper gets underway, the setting looks less certain. The location looks a little forced – until Robin P Goodfellow has his nervous breakdown and the action moves to the forest of his imagination and it is here that the play really comes alive. Once we are in the fairy realm, with the quarrelling lovers, with Oberon and Titania and the bumbling mechanicals, the play shifts into another gear.

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Natalie Abrahami reveals herself to be a highly imaginative director and has come up with some sparkling comedy sequences which make the most of the lovers on-going fight in the wood and gives the preening Bottom and his fellow players full reign as they carry out makeshift rehearsals for their own play.

Justin Avoth and Emily Joyce have great presence as the Burton/Taylor – Oberon/Titania partnership and Christopher Logan summoned up the presence of Kenneth Williams in his scene-stealing role as Bottom the Weaver. It was also a great idea to have Puck weld the donkey’s ears to Bottom’s head in a manner which conjures up memories of Universal’s Frankenstein’s monster.

Also on the first night it was great to hear the theatre ringing with joyful children’s laughter as the mechanicals finally got to present their enthusiastic play to the newly weds. It proves that Shakespeare still has the power to enthral and entertain generations of people.

This was a clever production, at times hugely entertaining. I’m still not certain if it entirely worked but by the end I wasn’t worrying about the aesthetics, I was enjoying myself far too much.

Andrew Clarke

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