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A Midsummer Night's Dream (tour – Southampton)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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Billed as a radical re-imagining of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream I approached Headlong’s new production with some trepidation. Having seen many of the bard’s finest plays shoe-horned into a variety of weird and wacky settings with varying degrees of success, my more traditionalist sensibilities regularly take a battering. But, following on from their critically acclaimed production of King Lear, starring the late Pete Postlethwaite, I had high hopes that this first rate company would yet surprise and delight.

Set in the 1960s, in a film studio, during the shooting of a Hollywood epic, Hippolyta's turbulent off-camera affair with co-star Theseus is fast becoming the love-hate relationship of the century – and it's not the only romance to have blossomed on set. As passions rise, tempers fray….

Justin Avoth and Emily Joyce (in dual roles as Theseus and Hippolyta, Oberon and Titania) are commanding, and the four young Athenian lovers – Faye Castelow (Hermia), Oliver Kieran-Jones (Lysander), Deirdre Mullins (Helena) and Max Bennett (Demetrius) excel, playing Shakespeare’s broad comedy with great wit and are both fresh and believable.

Christopher Logan (as Bottom) and Michael Dylan (Flute) are a joy, and deliver a show-stealing rendition of Pyramus and Thisbe.

David Shaw-Parker (Peter Quince) and Sandy Grierson (Puck) complete the superb and energetic ensemble, under the skilful direction of Natalie Abrahami, exploiting Tom Scutt’s effective and adaptable “sound stage” setting.

For me, the incongruity of the setting fights against and swamps the underlying story in the opening minutes of the play, and is at times an unnecessary distraction. Those not familiar with the original text might struggle to understand what is going until the plot is firmly established. But stick with it! When the Athenian lovers venture into the forest, the piece really gels and the brilliance of the concept becomes clear. Using an engaging mix of video, movement and 60s music, plus first-rate performances from the entire cast, the text of arguably Shakespeare's funniest play wins through, and the end result is extra-ordinary and enormously rewarding. 


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