Bear in the Air Productions have produced a fresh traditional retelling of one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays without resorting to gimmicks. It has been adapted brilliantly by Heather Simpkin to be performed by a cast of only six. This of course required very rapid costume changes, and placed great demands on the cast as they shifted within seconds from one character to another. All this was accomplished with great professionalism.
The setting was minimal in the Brockley Jack’s limited theatre space, with only a rudimentary bower, a statue and a few pieces of platform to represent the leafy bank. But the space was excellently used by the director, Conor Cook, although the need for cast members to leave the playing area to change rapidly into other costumes made for a few uncomfortable staging moments.
A lot of thought had gone into the costumes by Heather Simpkin. They represented the traditional Athenian setting with some useful colour coding to tell apart the lovers. The mechanicals were well attired with the minimum necessary to indicate working men of the time. The language was Shakespearean, with only a minimum of modern additions, mainly by Jack Jacobs in his role as Peter Quince, as he sought to organise his unruly bunch of willing but incompetent actors. It was extremely easy to follow the plot even allowing for the doubling, possibly more could have been done to bring out the poetry in the language, but this is a minor issue compared to its comprehension. Since there were four women and two men in the cast some gender changing was required, but this did not generally confuse, and the costume changes helped enormously in understanding which character the cast were playing at the time.
It was a very pacey production, having been cut down substantially from the original. The running was about 50 minutes each half and at no time did the action drag. All the best-known lines from the original play including “What fools these mortals be ” and “Though she be but little, she is fierce” were present. There was a lot of humour, particularly, obviously, in mechanicals scenes, and the final performance of Pyramus and Thisbe was hilarious.
The cast were all fairly young and enormously enthusiastic and talented. The way they switched between characters (and costumes) in a matter of seconds was very impressive. I particularly liked Nicholas Southcott’s Bottom but all the cast worked very well together as a team to produce a most enjoyable production.
I think this production will appeal to a wide range of audiences. Those who know the play will find it a refreshing, lively, retelling and those who do not know the story will find it a good introduction. I thoroughly recommend it.
Reviewer: Paul Ackroyd
Reviewed: 1st September 2023
North West End UK Rating: