Nick Bagnall’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream — Reviewed

Nick Bagnall’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Jospeh Viney gives new associate director Nick Bagnall top marks for setting his adaptation in the confines of a public school…

Would it be trite to say that Nick Bagnall’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is something of a fairytale to behold? Well, it wouldn’t matter anyhow, because it’s the truth. With no shortage of thanks to powerful and memorable performances, creative and imaginative lighting and enough visual humour to keep the schoolchildren populating the back rows, enthralled, this latest adaptation is a fitting representative of the award-winning Everyman.

A quick once-over of the cast is a sign of the show’s pedigree. Charlotte Hope as Hermia has also been in Games Of Thrones and The Theory Of Everything. Garry Cooper as Oberon has a history of performing Shakespeare, and, of course, we all know Kirby-born, Everyman regular Andrew Schofield.

The mish-mash of unrequited, passionate and misguided love that provides the narrative for Helena, Lysander, Hermia and Demetrius is set within the confines of a public school. The pupils’ dull grey uniforms are a marked contrast to their sprightly verbal tumbles and animated bounding and facial expressions.

“This adaptation is all about perception and imagination”

This adaptation is all about perception and imagination. Suspension of disbelief is a given. From the dusty echo chamber of the public school we alight to the forest outside Athens, via soft pink light bathing the stage and mounds of scrunched up paper as the general detritus of the forest floor. Garry Cooper’s Oberon is a tense, gruff and powerful being. His stiff gait and thin frame give Shakespeare’s King of the Fairies a skeletal and Death-like edge. His Queen Titania (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) seems to tread an uneasy and unpredictable path with him.

Nick Bagnall’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Quince (Schofield) and his “rude mechanicals” scuttle around in order to stage their play for the wedding of Theseus. Bagnall’s play will forever be remembered for Dean Nolan’s interpretation of Bottom. Big, cuddly, playful, sporting a beard you could twitch from and a frantic energy that has the audience laughing and cheering, he tends to steal the show in any scene he appears (we also see him about 90% naked too). Once you see him there’s no other comparison to make other than Brian Blessed. Once you hear that big, booming voice it’s nailed on. As the players stage their performance at the climax, Bottom comes bounding out with a Roman Legionnaire’s helmet and chest armour. He looked so much like Prince Vultan it took all the will in the world not to stand up and shout “GORDON’S ALIVEEEEEE!”

“All are enraptured both on and off stage”

But I digress. Bottom’s transformation is given a slightly more grotesque aesthetic; the donkey’s head is skeletal, no flesh or hair cover it. Nonetheless, it doesn’t stop Titania, under the manipulative work of Oberon and Puck (Cynthia Erivo), from falling deeply and madly in love with him. Titania’s wilful seduction of the jackass brings with it another creative shift: out comes the glittery gown, the fairies as musicians and a song and dance routine with echoes of Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin. Duncan-Brewster’s voice is just to die for, by the way.

By time we come to the play’s final stand – the deaths of Pyramus and Thisbe staged, affairs of the heart arranged but not to everyone’s satisfaction, Oberon achieving his aims – all are enraptured both on and off stage. Shakespeare has the mechanicals err and fluff so much that all enjoy the play regardless. But by this point the mirth and enjoyment is genuine. As all the characters remain spellbound by events and wound up in the blurred lines between dream and waking, so too are the audience urged by Puck to consider whether they are all in check. In keeping with the theme, it’s magical stuff.

Is justice done to Shakespeare’s timeless play? Without a doubt and then some. It’s a glimpse into a boundary-free, flighty and fickle universe that mirrors our own in some ways. See it and then have some dreams of your own.

Jospeh Viney

See A Midsummer Night’s Dream until Sat 18 April at the Everyman Theatre, Liverpool — £12-20

Posted on 02/04/2015 by thedoublenegative