Hild Bede Theatre kicks off the second term with a rendition of what is arguably William Shakespeare’s most beloved comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The production was kept traditional, and the actors did a wonderful job of conveying the poetry and wit of the (often difficult to understand) language. There was hardly a dull moment when the energy fell flat or the meaning was lost.
Jack Usher (Theseus) and Annie Osborne (Hippolyta) set the tone for the evening, hinting at the underlying violence and force behind the various types of love present in the play. Ruari Hutchinson’s darkly brooding Oberon brought a menacing air, presenting the audience with a jealous lover doing all within his power to get revenge from a woman for simply caring for a child whom she has a strong attachment to. Titania was well-spoken by Zephy Losey, her strong, clear tones asserting her own power against her fairy king and husband, and softening at the appropriate moments of sentimentality.
The stage setting made it very clear where the action was taking place, with the forest scenes kept to the main stage and the scenes in Athens staged on the side. The minimalistic set was well balanced with the costumes. It was evident that much thought and effort had been put into the wardrobe and makeup – especially that of the fairies and the Mechanicals. The upbeat music played to signify the entrance of the bumbling Mechanicals added a nice touch too, lightening the mood after some of the more serious scenes.
Although comical, much of the seriousness stemmed from the disputes between the Athenian lovers. Lysander and Demetrius were played by Josie Williams and Jazzy Price respectively, and their ability to shift between their portrayals of love and hate (and to convincingly play the opposite sex) was remarkable and hilarious. On the other side of the quartet, Hermia was portrayed by Emma Sims and Helena by Unity Haggard. While the performances of both were praiseworthy, Haggard’s rendering of Helena’s internal conflict in her soliloquy and other scenes deserves special mention. The key scene of Bottom’s metamorphosis and his subsequent interactions with the fairies as an ass was also well executed.
It was, however, the Mechanicals’ performance of the “play within the play” in Act 5 that had the audience in stitches – in particular George McNeilly (Bottom/Pyramus) and Alex Ottie (Flute/Thisbe). As Pyramus and Thisbe awkwardly yet passionately kissed as best they could through the chink in the human wall, and as they both died for love (à la Romeo and Juliet), this reviewer too collapsed in a fit of laughter. The comic timing of the Mechanicals was superb, emphasized all the more by Thisbe’s lipsticked mouth, Snout’s wall, and Snug in a lion onesie. Ending on a more subdued, dreamy note, Louise Webster as Puck delivered an immaculate final benediction on the house.
Overall, it was an enjoyable, light-hearted evening peppered with Shakespeare’s life lessons on love (Lysander’s brilliant line “the course of true love never did run smooth” comes to mind). Praise is due to Jessica Siddell’s direction for the well-executed performance and once more to the professionalism of the entire ensemble.