Sunday, 22 March 2015

A Midsummer Night's Dream - Liverpool Everyman - 21/03/2015

The iron tongue of midnight hath told twelve;

Lovers, to bed; ’tis almost fairy time.

When the Everyman does Shakespeare we expect it to have an edge, especially when the play is one with a supernatural element to it. In his new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Director Nick Bagnall casts a dark spell over his characters and audience alike and, along with the mischievous humour, he excavates some of the shadowy imaginings that haunt our dream time.
For his first production in his new role as Associate Director at the Everyman and Playhouse, Nick Bagnall has chosen to work with a former collaborator, designer Ashley Martin-Davis. They shared a vision of Shakespeare’s Dream in which there would be none of the obvious visual cues such as trees, moon and fairy wings, preferring to work in a more abstract setting whereby the audience could invoke their own imaginings.
The Athenian court of the opening is alluded to by the plinths of columns with the rest of the stage relatively unadorned. Peter Mumford’s lighting sets the tone for the production, and while the colours of light and costume shift dramatically from scene to scene, it remains in a variety of striking monochromes until a blaze of colour announces the final act.
I would hesitate to say that this is a ‘modern dress’ rendering, as many of the costumes are evocative of other times and places, but the school uniforms of the young lovers in the early scenes contribute strongly to our belief in them as teenagers. The mechanicals too, in their hi-vis work gear, bring us firmly down to familiar earth. It is the trip to fairy-land that flies into fancy, even without its fairy wings, with a dramatic and transformative scene change that takes us into a bewildering wasteland and seems to double the size of the Everyman’s open stage. From this point the action shifts a gear and the entrances and exits become even more imaginative.
Garry Cooper and Sharon Duncan-Brewster are our Theseus/Oberon and Hippolyta/Titania, while Puck has shifted gender and is played by a spritely Cynthia Erivo, who floats about the stage wielding her cane like some spectral ringmaster. The former pair have great poise as the Athenian Duke and his mistress. Cooper presents a malevolent form when he reappears as a troubled King of the Fairies and Duncan-Brewster’s Fairy Queen shimmers with light and passion.
Andrew Schofield appears as a spry site foreman as Peter Quince, assembling his motley crew of overalled players to rehearse their theatricals. Michael Hawkins is a sharp Robin Starveling /Moonshine, who seems a little confused by his dog, and Ozzie Yue plays Snug, his Lion putting me in mind of Bert Lahr’s creation in the Wizard of Oz. Alan Stocks (also a suitably enraged Egeus) is Tom Snout, who bears a witty wall. Lewis Bray (late of Cartoonopolis) is Flute, the bellows mender, whose turn as Thisbe is a sight to behold. And of he who plays Pyramus? Let’s just say that Dean Nolan’s Bottom has to be seen to be believed. It is a larger than life rendering in which there are moments when he could almost be channelling Brian Blessed.
Hermia and Helena are played by Charlotte Hope and Emma Curtis. They bring a naivety and schoolgirlish coyness to the parts but are equally able to find real venom when roused. Matt Whitchurch and Tom Varey are their confused lovers Demetrius and Lysander, and both have great charm and energy in their performances. The speed of delivery in the exchanges of this quartet is breathless in places, but even from the back row of the stalls I didn’t miss a syllable.
James Fortune’s music is a mixture of recorded sound and onstage performance, including recording work from Members of the Young Everyman Playhouse, and as well as creating the soundscape for the play the music occasionally finds humour of its own.
I have remarked in an earlier posting that I saw performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the old Everyman in January 1983, which broke the mould of theatre for me and made me fall in love with the Everyman space. This play is as open to reinvention as the theatre itself and invites directors to do something bold and new with it.
Nick Bagnall’s production finds aspects of light and shade that bring the work to the stage with renewed freshness and excitement. As well as exploring dusty corners of the text he also reaches out into the new Everyman space making maximum use of its openness, and we see more of the building’s capacity to surprise.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream lasts for approximately 3 hours, including one interval set between acts 3 and 4. It runs at Liverpool Everyman until Saturday 18th April. There is an age recommendation of 14+ due to one very brief scene with sexual innuendo and partial nudity.
Production photography (c) Gary Carlton:

Tom Varey and Charlotte Hope in rehearsal - image (c) Brian Roberts

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