Thursday 11 April 2024

Stage: Past the wit of man to say what dream it was

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
by William Shakespeare
director/designer Henry Maynard
with Lennie Longworth, Reanne Black, Krystian Godlewski, Simon Gleave, Elliot Pritchard, Vyte Garriga, Nadav Burstein, Paulina Krzeczkowska
music Nick Hart • lighting Rachel Shipp
Wilton's Music Hall, London • 9-20.Apr.24

As with last year's staging of The Tragedy of MacBeth, Flabbergast presents Shakespeare's oft-performed comedy in a blindingly impenetrable flurry of lavish costumes, masks, puppets and outrageous physicality. There are moments of genius along the way, with a playful play on gender and clever touches that are hilarious, moving and strikingly visual. Those who know the play well will find plenty to enjoy. Others will struggle to understand much of the over-performed dialog, which makes it impossible to get involved in the story. So the farce begins to feel like it will never end.

Set in Athens, this is the lively multi-strand story of four lovelorn young people lost in a forest where fairies are manipulating their emotions. Hermia and Lysander (Krzeczkowska and Pritchard) are trying to run away together, while Hermia's best friend Helena (Garriga) wants to capture her crush Demetrius (Burstein). Fairy Queen Titania and King Oberon (Black and Godlewski) use the sprite Puck (Longworth) to manipulate their affections, but get tricked themselves. Meanwhile, a troupe of actors led by the preening Bottom (Gleave) gets entangled in the chaos.

The lushly cluttered set features a large carriage, as if a theatre company stopped alongside the road to perform for us. This gives the show an intriguing timeless feel, and we can almost imagine the play being put on like this 400 years ago. With colourful costumes and props, and a clever use of the venue, the actors invest their full bodies into these roles, creating sparky personalities, big emotions and pointed interaction. Standout turns from the clownishly gifted Godlewski and the fearlessly silly Gleave keep us laughing; they and others provide a few moments of pathos. The entire cast has such a big stage presence, overflowing with cheeky energy, that it's fun to watch, even if we can only rarely make out the words spoken in such a range of accents amid constant physical movement.

Punctuated by group sing-songs, wildly energetic action and of course an entire play within the play, there's plenty here to hold the attention, even if the incomprehensible delivery makes it feel like it drags on far too long. What's most surprising is that there's nothing particularly new or enlightening about this production, which for all its irreverence is slavishly respectful toward both Shakespeare's play and traditional performances of it. Perhaps Flabbergast needs to more inventively adapt their approach to their audience, because this production feels like it's only made to please themselves.

For details, WILTON'S MUSIC HALL >

photos by Michael Lynch • 10.Apr.24

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