EFR - Reviews of A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Sun 16th – Mon 31st August 2015

reviews

Catherine Crook

at 09:50 on 20th Aug 2015

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A self-proclaimed ‘darker’ adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Cambridge University Amateur Dramatics Club’s production was something that initially, sounded like re-interpretation gone too far; a comedy without the comedy. Despite my preconceptions, the adaptation's execution was so sharply done that I quickly found myself warming to this darker forest, feeling far more invested in this comedy of errors than I had ever experienced feeling before.

The aspects for a darker take on this comedy are all there in Shakespeare’s text, delicately teased out by the ADC’s production; laying bare the nature of the not-entirely-consensual love usually played for comedy. Hermia and Lysander’s forbidden love was made all the more relevant by the intelligent and creative decision to cast Lysander as a woman, played by the brash and believingly lovesick Hannah Calascione, and her and Hermia’s (Alice Carlill) relationship provided a sinister hint of how gay relationships are still stifled into secrecy in order to survive. What better place then, to perform acts committed to secrecy than in the forest the ADC create – the constant blue light and simple but effective wooden tree silhouettes the only features consistently used to create this atmosphere, but used to great effect.

The dramatic nature of the piece allowed its ensemble cast to really shine in a different way, the emphasis shifted from comic timing to characterisation and emotional connection. Bethan Davidson as Titania was a success as the fairy queen, appearing other-worldly in her effortlessly commanding gracefulness around the stage. Eleanor Mack’s Helena, obsessive and scornful, consistently stole my attention and breathed a new life into a character often much maligned, being glossed over in many productions. Puck (Katurah Morrish) was the enchanting, sinister guide that the production needed, and Bottom (Ronald Prokeš) provided the comic relief that complemented the darkness; hilarious when acting both Pyramus and Thisbe in an attempt to assert his acting prowess.

The ADC’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Drean was an original and compelling adaptation, capturing the spirit of the play in just 90 minutes. Condensing Shakespeare is never an easy feat, but the show ran smoothly and felt coherent as a whole, never falling into any lulls of inaction. One of the only scenes where the adaptation failed in harnessing the same dynamic spirit as in the original was in the scene where the four lovers fight; despite the strong performances from all four cast members, the comic expectations that come with that scene were too high for the straight-played version to live up to.

Overall, the ADC’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a success, subverting our expectations and showing Shakespeare’s characters at their most dramatic and vengeful, and if not somewhat unexpectedly, most enjoyable.

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Mel Beckerleg

at 10:35 on 20th Aug 2015

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Cambridge University Amateur Dramatics Clubs bring you A Midsummer Night’s Dream as you’ve never seen it before. It’s a dark and brooding piece; the fairies are jerking, unnatural creatures, the forest is cast in haunting, shadowy lighting, and relationships have a disturbing, unhealthy quality.

It is immediately striking just how much the play lends itself to such an interpretation. The savagery of Egeus’ threats towards his daughter Hermia (Alice Carlill), and the violence and bitterness of Oberon’s (Tom Chamberlain) plots against the fairy queen, flow naturally from the text.

In this version, Hermia is the victim of her father’s homophobia as he refuses to allow her marry with a female Lysander (Hannah Calasciame). The gender swap is an interesting conceit that comes off well in the opening scenes, but feels underdeveloped as the play progresses.

Of course the cast are crucial in making the interpretation work, bringing the script to life in a compelling and natural way. Katurah Morrish is captivating as a Gollum-esque Puck, and Bethan Davidson is a formidable, chilling Titania. Yet the star performance comes from Eleanor Mach’s Helena; there’s a real depth to her obsessive passion and her performance dominates much of the play.

Thankfully, the original spirit of the labourers’ play is kept intact, injecting bouts of irresistible humour; Bottom (Ronald Pöhes) is consistently hilarious. That said, the collision of the slapstick and surreal is a difficult one to manage and it’s hard to know how to react to the absurd scene where an uncouth, donkey-headed Bottom is doted on by the sinister Titania.

The performance does drag slightly towards the end, and the delivery begins to feel a little more mechanical. There are moments at which the adaption is weakest; the scene in which all four Athenians find themselves together in the woods, marking the climax of Puck’s mischief, is stripped of its comic potential and in the end adds little to the show –aside from some classic spiteful exchanges between Hermia and Helena.

The costumes are wonderful and add perfectly to the show’s atmosphere of macabre fantasy. The set is artistic, yet on balance serves more as a hindrance, crowding an already small venue and proving a repeated trip hazard for performers.

It’s a stand-out piece of theatre putting a dark spin on a familiar tale, and a must-see for anyone tired of routine adaptations.

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