A Midsummer Night's Dream
Middle Temple Hall, London
Friday 13th April 2012
The majestic venue of this production is a sight to behold. With records suggesting the premiere of Shakespeare's The Tempest took place in the exact room, the atmosphere of the long wood-clad hall and vaulted ceiling couldn't be more suited.
Traditional though the venue may be, Antic Disposition did not concede to expectation with a prescribed production of one of Shakespeare's most popular plays. Heavily abridged, the action was fast-paced and energetic, streamlining the result to just two hours, although often compromising the characterisation that could have been better built in a wordier version. Various heights of purple ladders were placed across the performance area, providing the cover and height of the Forest of Athens, with an ever present moon towering over one end.
Theseus and Hippolyta were briefly seen, but strongly played, although Egeus seemed rather weak willed to be demanding the death penalty for his headstrong daughter.
The brutal compression of the parts of the "Lovers", meant they fell short of capturing the hearts of the audience and were instead condensed to a sub-plot - merely a set of playthings for the fairies. Performed with verve and intent, the traverse staging allowed for the progression of their chase through the forest to be frantically followed, often at break-neck speed, with their gradual dishevelment shown through the removal of clothing layers and the ripping of tights. The intention of the revealing nature of the costumes chosen for both Helena and especially Hermia was unclear, but succeeded only in providing unnecessary distraction for a certain section of the audience.
Each of the Mechanical's scenes, which were not subject to the same severity of abbreviation, were a delight. Well developed, individual, comic characters were masterfully constructed and portrayed. The denouement of their storyline with the performance of The Lamentable Comedie of Pyramus and Thisbe, although unfortunately not suiting the traverse staging style, certainly left the audience laughing. Nicholas White as Nick Bottom gave the performance of the night, despite being restricted by his ass costume - as visually suitable as comedy teeth may be, if they restrict the actor's mouth they should be avoided!
The Mechanicals actors doubled up as the chorus of fairies, their costumes barely changing to simple purple hues. Cheeky and surprisingly sprightly, they continued to impress. They were quite rightly out-frolicked by a mischievous Puck, whose agile, gleeful portrayal was pitched just right. Oberon and Titania managed to balance the antics in the fairy world with an ethereal quality and almost menacing power.
An enjoyable production, made all the more enjoyable for the fantastic venue - I would rush back to see Antic Disposition for that alone.