Okay, hands up, I’ll admit. I am one of those people who has never really ‘got’ Shakespeare. The language has always been a struggle for me, and I was always worried that I wouldn’t understand it but here we go, I decided to finally give it a go with the Stafford Gatehouse’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, the first indoor production in the history of the Stafford Shakespeare Festival.
With the action transported to Athens, under the direction of Sean Turner (The Play That Goes Wrong, The New Musketeers), we are introduced to the young lovers as they enjoy romance, beaches, music, and dance, unaware that their fates lay in the hands of the fairy realm.
‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is a love filled, magic fuelled adventure. At its heart, a love story, as Hermia (Milly Zero), Demetrius (James Bradwell), Lysander (Richard Logan) and Helena (Noa Nikita Bleeker) try to find love with the right person, struggling with the ideas of arranged marriage, loving someone who doesn’t love you back and the right to marry for love. Chaos ensues when Oberon (Dan Burton) in attempts to get revenge on fairy queen Titania (Kerry Ellis) vows to use a magical flower that can make someone fall in love with the first creature they see, and he gives the job of distributing the flower’s power to the mischievous fairy Puck (Will Taylor).
From the moment you enter the Stafford Gatehouse Theatre, you are transported into a mythical world. Fairy light covered trees and sparkling green vines line the route to the auditorium, where a Greek taverna sits upon the stage. The piece is littered with music and dance that fits both the Athens setting and the comedic style of the story, keeping the action bouncing along nicely.
In the show’s opening, we are introduced to a plethora of different characters. We meet Theseus, Duke of Athens (Toby Webster) and his fiancée Hippolyta (Oyin Orjia), along with Hermia, Helena, Demetrius and Lysander as Hermia fights against her father’s want for her to marry Demetrius whilst she loves Lysander and her best friend Helena loves Demetrius but he doesn’t return the feelings. And our story begins, all under the watchful eye of the cheeky cheerful Puck.
Jonathan Hyde, Olivier Sublet, Daniel Copeland, Elaine Hua Jones, Megan Marszal and Amy Revelle play Nick Bottom, Flute, Snout, Starveling, Snug and Quince of The Mechanicals, a local theatre troupe tasked with putting on a performance for the Duke’s wedding party. But between Bottom’s over confidence, the cast mate’s confusion, Snug’s stage freight and Quince’s panic that it’s going wrong, can they put on the show?
Once we are introduced to everyone and begin to learn their stories, the magic begins to take over and the adventure truly begins. An incredibly slick transformation of the set (designed by Anna Phillips) creates a mystical feel as the audience are transported from Athens into the forest, twinkling with coloured fairy lights and guarded over by Titania and her court, fairies Peaseblossom (Lucinda Freeburn) and Cobweb (Sam Lightfoot-Loftus). Sleight of hand and music captivates here.
Dan Burton and Kerry Ellis are a wonderful double act as Oberon and Titania, the all-powerful magical beings who boast of the power to change the lives of the young lovers and each other. A favourite with the audience was clearly Will Taylor’s Puck, full of a childlike glee as he delights in causing mischief and makes light of the mistakes he makes just by trying to follow Oberon’s instructions. He is cheeky and comical, with one point facial expressions displaying laughter one moment and confusion the next. With a grin and a happy ‘Ta Da’, he has the audience hanging on his every word.
Jonathan Hyde’s Nick Bottom earns many a laugh as he tries to play every character in The Mechanical’s production, much to the dismay of Revelle’s overworked Quince, whilst Toby Webster’s Theseus brings the glamour as the powerful Duke, and Bleeker, Bradwell, Logan and Zero embody the passion and lust for love and life of the young lovers as they muddle their way through the magical world they are forced into.
Whilst I have to admit that I still did struggle with the Shakespearian language at points, as there is a lot to take in with it all, the style of this production makes the story easy enough to follow even if you don’t catch every word. It’s mixed with physical comedy, slight breaking of the fourth wall and laughter, making it much more accessible and easier to understand. Both adults and children in the audience were happily following and laughing along, becoming swept up in the magic of it all.
As someone who didn’t know the story of ‘A Midsummer’s Night Dream’ before seeing this production, I didn’t know where a natural split for an interval would fall, but if I’m being honest here, I feel that perhaps it could have come a little bit sooner. The first act runs at around 1 hour and 20 minutes, with the second act being nearer to 45 minutes, with a lot of the main love story being covered in the first act. To an extent, the plot line is resolved pretty soon into act 2, leaving the rest of the time dedicated to the Mechanicals. This, in no way, takes anything from the enjoyment of the piece, but I feel that there could have been more of an even split down the middle that could help the acts to feel balanced.
Coming from someone who has always struggled with Shakespeare, this production feels like a perfect introduction to it. The comedy of the piece is the real driving force, full of wonder, magic, and love. You find yourself drawn into the mystical world of fairies and romance, where love conquers all and a flower can cause chaos, and you are sure to leave the theatre with a smile on your face and quite possibly a flower crown perched upon your head if you really want to get into the spirit of things.
Please note - I also reviewed this production on behalf of West End Best Friend, and that review can be found on their website https://www.westendbestfriend.co.uk/news/review-a-midsummer-nights-dream-stafford-gatehouse