One of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies was chosen to formally launch the main theatre at Shakespeare North Playhouse although more tragically it was to crash into more than one self-inflicted iceberg on the night.
As we meet the Duke (David Nellist), and his newly conquered betrothed, Hippolyta (Yazmin Kayani), Egeus (Tia-Bella Easton) interrupts proceedings to complain about her daughter, Hermia (Rebecca Hesketh Smith), who loves Lysander (William Grint) despite her father’s preferred match of Demetrius (Tyler Dobbs), who in turn is unwelcomingly pursued by Helena (Kate James). Hermia’s choice is clear: follow your father’s wishes or face either death or life as a nun. She steals away with Lysander in the night through the forest, rapidly pursued by Demetrius and Helena.
Also preparing to set out for the forest are the mechanicals – Bottom (Jimmy Fairhurst), Snout (Easton), Starveling (Kayani), and Snug (Nellist) – who, under the direction of Quince (Andrew Butler), are preparing a play for the Duke’s wedding.
And it is here in the forest that we meet the mischievous Puck (Louise Haggerty) whose master is Oberon (David Morrisey), King of the Fairies, whilst his Queen, Titania (Nadine Shah), is served by several fairies (Kelise Gordon-Harrison and other cast). A little domestic disagreement ensues and as the paths of lovers, workmen, and fairies cross, dark mischief is in the air, despite the well-meaning intentions of Oberon, as lovers become opposed and fairy magic provokes merriment and fear in equal measure.
After the amusement has unravelled, Puck’s challenge becomes to right his wrongs and as lovers are reconciled, newfound relationships proven true and accepted, there are at least two weddings…
if Shameless did Shakespeare it might look something like director Matthew Dunster’s interpretation, but it would also assume its targeted working-class audience were intelligent, an approach which felt distinctly lacking in this often-patronising production from Not Too Tame in conjunction with Northern Stage and Shakespeare North Playhouse.
Dunster notes in the press release that his previous interpretation of Cymbeline was pretty instrumental in bringing his tenure at the Globe to an end; on the evidence of tonight I can understand why.
It began to go wrong before it started as the cast and apparent crew spilled into the foyer suggesting there was a problem and after this little amusement wore off, it was repeated ad infinitum for little purpose or effect, including Its introduction into the opening of the play which served only to confuse.
Sadly, this production, which labours its working-class credentials in its press release, thought that by emphasising its medley of northern accents, descending to the lowest common denominator at every turn and swearing a lot meant it was reaching out to the community; I trust they’re bright enough not to try that approach in nearby Croxteth Park.
There was a plethora of techniques on display for no rhyme or reason other than to tick them off. Morrisey’s recorded voice over only served to make me wonder why he had opted not to appear in person: perhaps like me he was similarly put off by the screeching and shouting that masqueraded as acting, and when the biggest roar (of laughter) of the night came each time audience member Brian was corralled into being a lion which in itself is rather telling.
One good thing did stand out as Grint, a Deaf actor, was afforded a key role and supported by cast members using sign language, performed with glee in continuing to break that barrier down.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream performs at Shakespeare North Playhouse through to 22nd October before moving to Northern Stage. https://shakespearenorthplayhouse.co.uk/
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 27th September 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★