For one night only, SHAKE Festival presented a confident, rehearsed reading of Shakespeare’s much beloved romantic comedy, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ starring Rebecca Hall (Titania/Hyppolita), Luisa Omielan (Bottom/Pyramus) and Dan Stevens (Oberon/Theseus).
Set in a mystical woodland surrounding Athens, and loaded with a dizzying fizz of magic, love, and poetry, one of Shakespeare’s most accessible plays was brought into our homes live via Zoom and served a delightful and welcome addition to the many online productions that have graced our computers and devices during lockdown.
Given that the play explores inner desire, passions, sexuality and gender, tonight’s reading maintained a somewhat traditional and straightforward delivery of the work. That said, Director, Jenny Cannon Hall made a few brave decisions casting Helena as a man (Daniel Bowerbank) adding a more modern feel to the piece and included some interesting accents within the cast of ‘Mechanicals’ which added nicely to their role to provide comic relief within the play.
By far the standout performance of the reading came from the cast of Mechanicals, Omielan read Bottom/Pyramus with confidence and energy and brought the three separate plots together with brilliant comic timing. Robert Hands also delivered a brilliant Peter Quince showing us all the ambition of the master craftsman in character and performer.
Unfortunately, aside from a few scenes most of the reading lacked the shine, sparkle, and imagination you get with an onstage production and it felt like Cannon Hall failed to put her Directorial signature on the work. There was some innovative use of lighting and webcam work (within the limitations of the mode of delivery), but A Midsummer Night’s Dream really needs to be played out on a stage with the full spectacle of the piece. This was of course a rehearsed reading rather than a production, and it did manage to maintain surprising energy throughout, with the production’s intended overall effect appearing to be realised. The story translated well for the digital audience, however, there is something lacking in watching a reading of a play that is usually has so much fairy magic and romance.
Reviewer: Alan Stuart Malin
Reviewed: 31st March 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★