A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Lyric
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare’s most playful work, is an appropriate cultural touchstone for theatre troupe Filter to flip on its back and prod at its underbelly. Naturally these madcap and anarchic digressions, which result in the first half featuring little of Shakespeare’s verse, could be dismissed as “low-brow” but actually this overlooks some of the key ingredients of Shakespeare’s original, namely its blatant meta-theatrical bent and also his more subtle rumination on the quicksilver passage of time itself – after all the play takes place over a single night. Here the actors have barely an hour to motor through the complex love affairs, rejections and manipulations of the source material, but fortunately in this case, as many a magazine reviewer knows, sometimes of the best work is done under tight deadlines.
Indeed this Midsummer poses a daunting task for any who review it as like all great comedies there’s little fun in draining all the gags of their spontaneity by repeating them via the typed word. The reveal of Bottom (Stephen Buckley) is a clever surprise, as are several fourth-wall-breaking routines referencing amongst others Sharon Stone, The Revenant, Jeremy Hunt’s dismantling of the NHS, the similarities between classical Athens and Brighton’s “thriving homosexual subcultures” and even the Daily Mail’s one-star review (boo! hiss!) of this production’s original run in 2012. The set itself resembles a public toilet, whilst the woods are represented with a tent and some foldable chairs, and the faeries are represented by eerie noises from what sounds like a theremin. A video game-like duel at the end is in danger of jumping the shark on but it never quite succumbs.
The cast are up to the challenge and throb with infectious delight over their craft, sucking the audience into the spirit of things with magnetic ease. There’s Ed Gaughan’s whimsical and caustic turn as Peter Quince, the unlikely pairing of Cat Simmons’ regal Tatiana with Jonathan Broadbent’s petulant Oberon, a man-child clad in spandex and Ferdy Roberts’ show-stealing interpretation of Puck as a Fosters-chugging, bearded handyman with a habit for bursting through the stage walls. The four mismatched lovers are all excellent too, charting a fine passage from anguished despair to uninhibited sexiness as the play’s machinations unfold, with Clare Dunne particularly impressive as the beleaguered Helena.
Filter’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream crowd-pleasing impulse dominates and is slickly delivered with a nonchalant grace. It’s true that some of the sweetness and gentle melancholy of Shakespeare is jettisoned but it’s easy to forgive a play (or is it a theatrical jam session?) this astoundingly fun for going easy on your emotions. Of course no-one should be discouraged from more traditional interpretations too, but it would take a masterful degree of self-control, akin to hypnosis, to not be swept up in the exuberant madness on display here.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is on at the Lyric Theatre from 19th February until 19th March 2016. Book your tickets here.
Watch the trailer for A Midsummer Night’s Dream here: