This is a very different production, by Filter Theatre and Lyric Hammersmith, where director Sean Holmes manages to create a truly exciting interpretation of Shakespeare’s play-within-a-play.
I worried beforehand that I might find the language tedious and the play not easy watching, possibly because of memories of school days and going to see Shakespeare productions which I, along with others, did not particularly enjoy. So I prepared myself by reading a synopsis of the play which explained the many characters involved and the humorous story lines.
The Royal Exchange is a theatre-in-the-round which is visited by tourists to Manchester as well as theatregoers. The space was transformed to good effect with eye-catching and modern features to bring Shakespeare’s much-performed 16th century comedy to life. The focus for the performance area was a platform covered with paper, an old shower base, a drum kit, an electronic keyboard and a guitar, plus microphones.
To stir the audience up and get us ready for the fun ahead, an iconoclastic touch came when an Irish stand up comedian walked on, microphone in hand, and began a routine welcoming us to the Royal Exchange, with patter about our Royal family and other aspects of life in England. He certainly made me laugh, but Royalists beware!!
After about ten minutes, the Shakespeare part began and a person chosen from the audience was invited to join in. The person, we soon discovered, was a cast member who agreed to play the part of Bottom. From then on, we had the plot interspersed with rock music and lyrics from the play. The three musicians were also capable actors.
The audience laughed when the two couples, Helena, Hermia, Lysander and Demetrius climbed into a pop-up tent, as part of the woodland scene. Further merriment ensued when Oberon, dressed as Superman, was lowered from the ceiling, then propelled on a wheeled board through the door way. I could imagine all the pupils studying the play would adore that.
Modern dress was used. Helena clomped around wearing a pair of high-heeled brown shoes. Titania looked as if she was going for a night on the tiles and Puck carried a can of beer throughout most of the performance.
The play started strongly with the stand-up comedy introduction which set the tone for the evening. Shakespeare purists will note that some of the lines of the play had been edited out.
Any production of this play can be hard to follow, unless you are familiar with the story, but all the cast were excellently directed by Sean Holmes who succeeded in not only keeping up the pace but also achieving a freshness, as if it was only written recently.
I’ve never heard a Royal Exchange audience cheer so much as they did at the end of this production and I left the theatre thinking, “If only we had been able to watch a production like that in my school days.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester until Saturday 4 August.
Ticket prices start from £9 and you can book tickets via the box office on 0161 833 9833
or online. The Box Office is open for telephone and in-person booking Monday to Saturday from 9.30am – 6.15pm.
(Evenings) Monday – Friday, 7.30pm / Saturday, 8.00pm
(Matinees) Wednesdays, 2.30pm / Saturdays, 4.00pm
EXTRA MATINEE Thursday 26 July 2.30pm
Approx 1 hour 45 minutes no interval
BACK STAGE TOURS
Wednesday 1 August, 11.00am
AFTER SHOW DISCUSSION
Thursday 26 July
Saturday 28 July, 4.00pm
BSL INTERPRETED PERFORMANCE
Friday 3 August