sun 14/04/2024

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Opera North | reviews, news & interviews

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Opera North

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Opera North

Groovy 1960s update of Britten's opera is full of wit and wonder

Hamming it up: Nicholas Sharratt, Joseph Shovelton and Henry WaddingtonTristram Kenton

All starts with a barely perceptible bass rumble, before Britten’s lower strings begin their queasy glissandi, shifting key signature every few seconds. It’s a wonderful operatic opening, here teased out with deft mystery by conductor Stuart Stratford.

One of many surprises in this polished revival of Martin Duncan’s 2008 production is the look of Johan Engels’s forest. There’s no greenery, but lots of translucent perspex. Giant plastic balloons drift uncertainly. Bruno Poet’s funky lighting shimmers. All that’s missing is a giant lava lamp. Shakespeare’s fairies look here like primary schoolchildren dressed for PE, finished off with alarming blonde wigs which can’t help recalling the sinister incomers from John Wyndham’s Village of the Damned.

Andrew Glover, Kathryn Rudge, Sky Ingram and Quirijn de LangDuncan’s swinging update ultimately does the opera proud; Britten purists may object to the broad humour and occasional vulgarity, but how refreshing it is to be in an opera house rippling with genuine belly laughter, not just the polite tittering uttered by the cognoscenti when they’ve recognised an erudite directorial in-joke. There are moments when you’re reminded of a cheesy 1960s film farce – Lysander and Demetrius wearing exquisitely tailored paisley suits, then stripping off and chasing one another whilst sporting comedy underpants. Daniel Ableson’s leery, edgy Puck sports shiny red shorts that are a little too brief, his behaviour suggesting that he’s forgotten to take his Ritalin tablet. Puck’s unhealthy relationship with James Laing’s Oberon is brilliantly spelt out in the early scenes; he bounds about like an unruly mongrel desperate to please an abusive owner.

Seeing such a physically lively production increases one’s admiration for Britten’s score – with every kink and quirk in the music reflected in Ben Wright’s choreography. The mechanicals’ rehearsal is hysterically funny, as John Savournin’s uptight Peter Quince attempts to impose authority on his unruly cast. Their performance near the close of Act 3 is painted in the broadest of strokes, and is all the wittier for it – Nicholas Sharrat flounces beautifully as Flute, while Joseph Shovelton sports a scene-stealing brickwork suit as Snout. Their post-performance Bergamask is little more than six ungainly blokes doing a silly dance, but it’s sweetly done. Elsewhere, Sky Ingram and Kathryn Rudge as Helena and Hermia are well matched and physically perfect for their roles, with Andrew Glover and Quirijn de Lang suitably foppish as Lysander and Demetrius (pictured above, right).

But you leave this opera haunted by Britten’s fairy music – reams of spectral harp arpeggios and glittering tuned percussion. Jeni Burn’s silver-clad Tytania vamps it up nicely with Henry Waddington’s Bottom, and Laing’s imposing Oberon is light-toned vocally but sufficiently eerie-sounding to raise one’s neck hairs. And those childrens’ voices are magnificent – I challenge anyone with a heart to remain dry-eyed during the closing chorus. You rather hope that Britten would have approved. Terrific, in other words.

How refreshing it is to be in an opera house rippling with genuine belly laughter


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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