Sunday, 16 December 2012

A Midsummer Night's Dream - review

Written by: Adam Jay (@AdamJBJay)

Lion and Unicorn Theatre, London

One of the most often performed and well known of Shakespeare's plays is given a surprisingly fresh and fantastic new twist by Grassroots Shakespeare London, a company that pride themselves on keeping The Bard alive. An incredible evening spent watching one of the most humorous performances of a modernised version of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
The Lion and Unicorn is a gorgeous little pub situated in Kentish Town, offering a quaint theatre above that has gained a reputation for fringe theatre in the recent years. Although an already small space, the company chose to stage the entire play in front of the curtains, ultimately removing any sense of the fourth wall from the off. The simple set of crates served them perfectly as use for all purposes, as well as to hide extra lighting within.

Photo: Grassroots Shakespeare London
A prologue in the form of a song was a charming touch; it laid out the company’s style, such as their gender-blind casting and their sense of comedy and modernisation of the play. Emily Jane Kerr as the Philostrate, and later as Puck, was fascinating to watch, commanding the two very different physicalities to a very high degree. Female Puck's are quite popular, but this performance chose to make Oberon's fairy more naïve, more fearful of Oberon than usually shown, whilst still keeping the audacious cheek and boyish behaviour.

The modernisation was done very cleverly – Titania's fairies were male, dressed as personal bodyguards, checking the space was clear before their Queen could enter. Titania herself, played by Grassroots founder Siobhan Daly, dressed in a white fur coat and dress, a diva-like apparel. However the costumes of Oberon and Puck confused me a little; Oberon wore a tweed jacket and cravat, resembling an early 20th century man, whereas Puck wore typically flowing green material but with a t-shirt and a beanie. Visually it was quite effective, and it did not hinder the performance in any way, I just wasn't sure of the time period they were trying to relate to, if any.

Although the company do not cast based on gender, possibly the best and most hilarious choice made was that to cast Helena as a man, (as it would have been done in Elizabethan times) but keeping Hermia female. Adam Blampeid as Helena was sensational; it is easy to exaggerate being a woman so much that an audience is just laughing at the parody, rather than the situation. Blampeid was able to utilise the contrast of his masculine form and his actions to create the majority of the laughter during the two hours. Nothing is funnier than when two men fall for the guy in the dress.

Photo: Grassroots Shakespeare London
Other treasures in the performance include Benjamin Bonar's incredible socially awkward take on Peter Quince, Ciaran Cunningham's highly adept lighting skills, and the play within a play of 'Pyramus and Thisbe' being wonderfully dreadful. Hilarious, intimate and full of fresh talent; this company is definitely one to watch.

This production runs until 5 January 2013.
@GiantOlive @GrassrootsLON

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