Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Theatre Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream

Written By: Mark Armstrong and Alison Jones

Format: Play
Genre: Comedy
Date: April 25 2017
Location: Epstein Theatre, Liverpool, England

It's a testament to the work of William Shakespeare that over 400 years after his death, his plays are still being performed by some of the leading theatre actors and actresses in not only Liverpool, but around the country. This incarnation of A Midsummer Night's Dream, however, marked the first Shakespeare performance to hit the Epstein Theatre, so it was an ambitious undertaking by director and performer Daniel Taylor (who I interviewed about the show last week, which you can read here); however, he and the team delivered a strong production, and a worthy, modern take on one of Shakespeare's most notable stories.

Set in and around Athens, Ancient Greece, it's a tale which embodies how the course of true love does not run smooth. Four young lovers, two doting couples, are suddenly trapped within the dream-esque stranglehold of a spooky, enchanted forest. In this dark setting, the bizarre and imaginative Puck (James Templeton) reigns supreme, possessing powers which extend beyond belief, assisted by evil sprites and fairies. In the meantime, however, there is an ongoing dispute between the Fairy King, Oberon (Johnny Schumacher), and Fairy Queen, Titania (Sharon Byatt), all while Bottom (the aforementioned Daniel Taylor) and his friends are planning to put on a theatre production of their own; it's a play within a play, especially once performed.

Puck, a real mischief-maker whose power and twisted sense of humour have no boundaries, is there to make sure that the journeys that all involved take are anything but simple, with fantasy, love, deception, humour and dreams all coming together in one unpredictable and eye-catching production. However, his failure to undertake Oberon’s commands efficiently, and his error of smearing the juice of a magic love flower onto the wrong people, ends up being the catalyst of much confusion and hilarity. Humans are made to love the wrong partners, and Titania falls in love with an actor who has been given the head of a donkey! In the end, of course, magic sets things right and humans find their true loves. Oberon realises that his love for Titania is stronger than his pride.

Daniel Taylor, as Bottom, really brings the play to life with plenty of verbal and physical humour, along with interesting facial expressions which perfectly capture the ridiculousness of not only the situations, but also of the Bottom character as a whole. The eventual performance of the "play within a play" provides plenty of slapstick humour, which to me was the highlight of the show as a whole.

Despite the simplicity of the set, the play was very atmospheric with dry ice and just a few musicians behind a transparent screen, giving off an ethereal feel. There was a lot of audience engagement, with actors spending time out in the stalls and circle of the theatre, and interacting in the "play within a play".

Shakespeare brings together two worlds: the human world of Athens and the fairy world of the woods outside the city, one ruled by law and one by magic, and Taylor's version of this classic tale is effectively conveyed, both from a storytelling and a visual standpoint. Puck, the mischievous elf, told the story throughout, and despite actor James Templeton running the London Marathon only two days before, his athletic and enthusiastic performance pulled the scenes together and made sense of it all. The audience expressed their approval with much applause, and the play closed with a short musical piece.

Shakespeare's plays have a large following to this day, and for those who enjoy the works of Shakespeare and the fantasy elements coming to life on stage, Daniel Taylor's version of A Midsummer Night's Dream is a well-performed and attention-grabbing production which I recommend all Shakespeare fans should see.

Overall Rating: 8/10 - Very Good

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