Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"Don't come expecting anything because it won't be the way you expected" is the message from Filter to audiences of their Lyric co-production Midsummer Night's Dream now touring. I went expecting rowdy anarchy, and was not disappointed.The Tobacco Factory auditorium, largely composed of college students, helpfully recreated Elizabethan mob racket from the start, heedless of Flute's plea from the stage "Stop talking! Do you not know I can actually see you, it’s not the telly." Flute was in prologue mode at the time, introducing their show to Bristol with the conceit that Bottom was to be played tonight by Martin Clunes whose nonarrival now meant cancellation... Cue the fabulous Fergus O'Donnell, aka a punter called Steve, to identify himself as keen (and insured through MU) and step into role, cleverly anticipating the Mechanical's similar dismay when Pyramus goes missing. And for me it's the way jokes & chaos were always somehow entwined with Shakespeare's storylines & themes that makes this production so much more than merely a romp with fairies & funny frocks. In fact costumes, like lighting, set, and props evoking Occupy rather than Athenian woodland, all encouraged suspension of disbelief rather than eye-feasting, with Bottom's transformation effected without any visual change. Sound was the magic, throughout, creating donkey hooves, moonlit magic, and turning Titania's flowery dell into a seething club scene. Lots of the hilarity as well as the musical vitality came from contemporary references: Oberon, a central character throughout, was a wonderful combo of over-excited child and annoying office boss as played by Jonathan Broadbent in a Batman suit telling everyone ‘I’m invisible!’
But even with cuts and changes, the themes of Shakespeare's story came through and his words remained the real success of the play. The pain of the young lovers' relationships, the brutality of rejection in a trusted bonding, the distress at abandonment - all these timeless elements were shown full-on and the gravity of that anguish wasn't compromised by the culminating violent food fight with flying flump across the stage and auditorium. Both ways. I think that was my favourite bit, along with Batman/Oberon and his Robin/Puck settling in camping chairs with Carlings to watch the humans fight... fight....

Summing up in 4 words: brilliant, inventive, anarchic, overlong. I don't know what it's like on other nights, but it seemed to me we'd had our best fun out of the 'metafiction' of Pyramus and Thisbe at the opening, and the production could have ended after the magic righting of the final wrong, giving Bottom the rueful last word ("Shame...") as he wakes from his Dream to find he's no longer hung like a donkey, and then returning him back to his seat in the audience. The cast seemed as exhausted as the audience, and the long death scene meant the production ended with wafts of confused pre-emptive applause.. not a good finale for a fabulous show. But 4 stars, definitely, so take a look at the Youtube or just book and go.

And here's a picture of Autumn at Stourhead, before this unexpectedly mellow autumn remembers it's nearly the end of November and disappears into wintry murk.

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