It seems to be the current fashion to run plays without an interval. There are often good artistic reasons for doing so - the dramatic tension can run unabated. But Filter's production of Midsummer Night's Dream has no such lofty ideals; the sole aim is laughs, right from the start.
The play is introduced by Ed Gaughan's Peter Quince in a long rambling monologue, setting the scene for the action - the central gag being that they pull Mark Benton from the audience to play Bottom.
Director Sean Holmes looks to bring a new interpretation to bear on the play, but this toying with the text only brings to mind the type of mayhem that Morecambe & Wise wreaked on seemingly serious plays. There are further Morecambian touches: Benton even shuffles on stage with his shopping, and there's a willingness to burst into song at any opportunity (Chris Branch and Tom Haines’ score covers a variety of musical styles ); there are also a couple of excellent sight gags.
It's a madcap 105 minutes but while there are some funny moments, it's nowhere near as comical as the cast seem to think it is. The Morecambe & Wise reworkings were funny because everyone else involved played it perfectly straight. Here, much of the play seems almost incidental to the funny business. Usually, the mechanicals' Pyramus & Thisbe works because it so ruthlessly sets the actors’ pretensions against the ludicrous nature of the text, but when everything is an anarchic mess the joke has disappeared.
But that’s the same for the entire production. Many recent stagings have played heavily on the darker significance of the sexual misadventures in the Athenian woods and the strange dreamlike world engendered by the fairies, but there’s no sense of light and darkness here. There’s a strange ending too: after the woodland scenes are over, the six mortal lovers disappear and the truncated Pyramus & Thisbe is played to the audience rather than the court, which rather misses the point.
There’s nothing wrong with adapting Shakespeare of course and re-inventing the text for comedic purposes – Propeller did this brilliantly in their Comedy of Errors last year – but if you’re going to adapt a naturally comic play like this, the impetus is on the actors to make it even funnier. Sadly, for all their best efforts, it never really works – I’m sure much fun was had doing this but Filter have, on this occasion, done little to enhance the play.