What is Shakespeare’s best comedy? Although plenty of people would vote for A Midsummer Night’s Dream it is, in truth, an impossible question to answer. Why? Because the Bard’s plays exist to be performed and any humour in the script is only conveyed to the audience with great direction. With a good director at the helm, Dream is hilarious, fast-paced and emotional. With a poor director in charge, it can feel turgid, long and devoid of comedy. This production has an excellent director in charge. It’s hard to walk out of the theatre thinking anything other than Dream is the best Shakespeare comedy and this must be one of the very, very best telling’s of this timeless tale.
All Female Shakespeare does exactly what it says on the tin. Created by Unseemly Women, HER Productions and Girl Gang Manchester, the same team previously staged Romeo & Juliet and Hamlet in the same space. They may well be mirroring Edward Hall’s all-male theatre company, but this production is bolder, more alive and has a lot more to say than Propeller’s Dream did.
In one of the best openings to any play in a long time – Shakespeare or otherwise – our cast explode into the auditorium to a soundtrack of Cyndi Lauper, Beyonce and ABBA. The raucous Canal Street hen party goers parade up and down Sorcha Corcoran’s catwalk-style set singing with the audience, dancing, downing shots, filming the fun on their phones and even mopping up the inevitable mess.
The celebration is rudely and inevitably interrupted by men. Warring Lysander (Alicia Forde) and Demetrius (Lucy Hilton-Jones) are fighting over Hermia (Izzy McKenty) who is refusing to marry Demetrius: the man her father Egeus (Laura Harris) has chosen. Helena (Lori Nicholson), meanwhile, is desperately in love with Demetrius herself. To no avail. Enter Theseus (Gemskii) and his highly questionable offer – the Athenians run away, and the magic begins. And this production really is magic. It kicks off at 100mph and, aside from a couple of moments in the first half, the pace never lets up. Quite a feat.
Almost all of what is so fantastic about this Dream is down to Kate Colgrave Pope’s superb direction. Glorious music choices to mark changes in thought and plot (Peaches’ Fuck the Pain Away was made for Shakespeare). Rotating glitter balls to represent fairies. A balance of focus which allows all the storylines and characters to have their moment in the spotlight.
Having said that, the scenes of the rude mechanicals rehearsing are – as ever – among the funniest. Anyone who has directed youth or community theatre will instantly recognise Alexandra Maxwell’s hassled Quince. Karen Henthorn as Bottom is simply extraordinary, a masterclass in physical comedy. It’s impossible not to fall in love with Della Mars’ Snug.
Although hilarious, the amdram sections never outshine the rest of the story and the other characters. Every single cast member is on top form here but special mention to Alicia Forde whose Lysander is crystal clear in both word and action.
So-called ‘Shakespeare purists’ might balk at added speeches and asides but the man himself would surely have loved them. They always serve the plot and the comedy.
“To die the death or to abjure forever the society of men.” What a choice. There is so much to celebrate or discuss that perhaps one of the least interesting things about this production is that it is all-female. The show is, however, a celebration of the whole spectrum of femininity and a victory over misogyny. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a fantastic party. The audience members lucky enough to experience it will perhaps never see a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream quite as good as this one.
Running until the 16th October at Hope Mill Theatre, you can book tickets via: https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/a-midsummer-nights-dream
Reviewer: Peter Ruddick
Reviewed: 8th October 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★