Theatre review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Our theatre reviewer, Hannah Hobson, shares her thoughts on A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Hull Truck Theatre.

Alexandra Abel as Peaseblossom, Brian Hossack as Bottom, Elizabeth Holt as Cobweb, Mike Edwards as Mustardseed, Andrea Russell as Titania

It’s easy to forget in our world of high budget musicals and slick million-pound dramas that theatre has always been, at its heart, about people coming together to tell a story. Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an excellent work to illustrate this point, its play within a play demonstrating a long tradition of people from all walks of life coming together to put on a show. There is nothing more essential to the legacy of British theatre than a community show, especially one as dynamic and ambitious as Hull Truck’s latest production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

This is a production that excels in its concept. While our mechanicals wield iPads and our Athenians are denim-clad, there’s a feeling of timelessness rather than a straight modernisation. Our chorus of fairies occupy the middle-ground between 60s hippies and contemporary festivalgoers. The genius is that the character action shines through but isn’t impeded by any contrived ways of modernising the dialogue. All of this makes the play easily accessible to cast and audience alike.

Director, Tom Saunders, has an excellent grasp on how to reinvigorate a four-hundred-year-old play and make it as watchable as any modern comedy. Not only that but the production is structured around inclusivity, finding moments for each person to shine, whether it’s Robin Starveling (played by Christine Church) knitting between rounds of spontaneous applause for Nick Bottom or Peaseblossom and the Sleep Fairy (Alexandra Abel and Katie Stones, respectively) singing a fairy-lit lullaby for Titania. It’s a production which shows how community theatre can open its arms wide and represent its community.

It’s a solid cast across the board – a difficult feat in community theatre – but there are a few stand-out performances which demand a special mention.

Our quartet of lovers were a joy to watch, with Lysander and Hermia played by Dmitri Colville and Freya Noman, and Helena and Demetrius played by Erin Findlay and Fred Weeks. All four bounce off one another well. Weeks especially is an excellent physical performer with a wry manner that creates some excellent stage moments. Giving one of the funniest comic performances I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in a Shakespearean comedy, Findlay is an exceptional Helena, captivating, oozing in turns with both pathos and indignance.

The Mechanicals operated as a true company within the company. Their scenes are filled with comic details, and I could sit for days unpicking the delicate turns which made those scenes so funny. As Nick Bottom, Brian Hossack is giving a star-making performance, hilarious when among his Mechanicals and preening when being pampered by his entourage of fairies.

Speaking of fairies, the movement direction from Tamar Draper and Jo Ashbridge does an excellent job of making the fairy chorus feel like one cohesive unit. They seem to speak and move as one entity, even while being of all shapes and sizes, with each fairy having their own unique character. The shining star here, bedecked in tinsel and appearing all over Truck’s main stage, is Livie Dalee as Puck. An excellent mover, Dalee uses the full effect of her costume in order to weave spritely sparkle into every scene she occupies.

The management of costuming a large cast as well as making the green wood feel like an otherworldly and magical space where dreams are reality and fairies reign, falls to Emily Bestow. The subtlety and neon joy of the set and costume design creates a real sense of stage magic not easily achieved. The reveal of the fairy kingdom made me want to watch the show three more times. Bestow’s design, when coupled with Jessie Addinall’s lighting, is a feast for the eyes. It has all the sequins, fairy lights and flower crowns that your heart can desire.

Ultimately, the team behind this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream have dived straight into the wonder that comes with community theatre. There’s a real sense of play inherent in every performance and every design choice. A glimmering example of what it means to include and represent a community in art.

[Hannah Hobson – Theatre reviewer]