Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream @ Northern Stage

Image: Members of The Watermill Ensemble. Photo by Scott Rylander_45

*This post is sponsored*

When it comes to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I have seen many a version of this Shakespeare play. But I don’t think I have ever seen a version quite like this before.

Fear not my readers for I am not comparing this production to previous ones. I am reviewing the performance of its own merit.

 The Watermill Theatre conveyed the famous play clearly, I understood the storyline right from the start to the end.  However, I fear that is the only thing I understood.

Feeling like The Play That Goes Wrong, this tale is a mishmash of forms. On stage, there is have a backdrop that looks like the behind the scenes/stage area set up with wooden boxes, ladders and props around- that fall of and on at times.

  But then there are moments in the performance when there is a luxurious red velvet curtain, a backdrop of a tree that reminds me of panto, and this hoop with lights on. So it is a little difficult to deceiver where this play is going and how they are using all of these elements to create something different.

The company used live music in the production, it was impressive to hear live music and see it was the actors on stage who were playing the instruments. However it didn’t sit well, the music wasn’t used throughout the performance, only in certain scenes.  So when they were playing songs like  Sing To The Moon and Music For Lovers it felt a little disjointed.

However, I did like the way the company performed the songs. Along with signing, they performed what looked like sign language (forgive me as I am unsure if it was) or gestural motifs. It was really soft, gentle and elegant in the performance.

When you think of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, you may think of Pixi ears, fairy dust and wings. As you can see in the picture, the fairies were dressed in top hat and tailcoats- like high-class waiters.   In fact, none of the costumes except Queen Fairy- Titania were classic to the story. The Athenians were in victorian dress and the minor characters like Snug The Joiner were in working clothes, it was like Downton Abbey in that the costume defined the status.

Due to the set and the costume I didn’t feel immersed, I wanted to feel like I was in the forest and be there in Athenes but I could not get myself into the story. I still felt like was watching actors on the stage.   There was still a dreamy and mysterious atmosphere that was created but I didn’t feel like I in the story.

I found myself following two particular characters which were Puck played by Molly Chesworth and Bottom played by Emma Barclay.

Bottom is, of course, a character of a comedy, they want to be the centre of attention and perform to the lord and lady. With the help of the King of the Fairies, Oberon and his sidekick Puck. Poor Bottom ends up getting the wrong kind of attention and Titania is completely enamoured with Bottom. Barclay is very energetic in her performance and is full of witty banter and is defiantly the holder of entertainment- she keeps the comedy and fun element of  A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Puck the domestic sprite is a version of the Artful Dodger. He is sick of being told what to do. A misunderstood sidekick, he loves it when the plan comes together and it’s his plan. Completly drunk on power, he is going mad with all this magic. Chesworth really made this character her own. There were numerous scenes where we saw Puck’s character develop in the solo scenes. And I really wanted to see more of Puck, there was just this darker side that I wanted to explore.

These two characters really drove the story along.

I am left speechless and unsure as of what to think of this performance. Is it a theatre of farce? A Comedy? A Cabaret? A Musical? or A straight Shakespeare play? What I do know is that it captures the magic and humour of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


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