sun 18/08/2019

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Lyric Hammersmith | reviews, news & interviews

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Lyric Hammersmith

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Lyric Hammersmith

Filter deliver a knowing, subversive, modernist rendering of Shakespeare's reverie

Victoria Moseley and Rebecca Scroggs as rock chicks Hermia and HelenaKeith Pattison

Four people walked out of Filter’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream last night. The rest stayed to cheer an hour and 20 minutes of fast and furious filleted Shakespeare from a company which has made its name merging visual and musical forms, reinventing classics and creating new devised pieces.

Their previous brush with the bard, the RSC collaboration Twelfth Night, was a gas: refreshing, funky, playful – all you would wish for in a revisionist production. Thinking of them as a pocket-sized British version of the Wooster Group is perhaps overdoing it, but what's certain is that with Sean Holmes again in charge as the Lyric’s artistic director (as he was with several of Filter's previous productions), the company have gone out of their way to deconstruct a play that can so easily fall into Victorian whimsy. Indeed, the front of the programme shows a typically romanticised illustration: a little fairy girl with gossamer wings and a beatific smile alighting on a leaf; a picture of Ruritarian and rural innocence. Well, you won’t find much of any of that in Filter’s punk version. It is a very knowing, subversive, modernist rendering that plunders as many technological and cultural references as it can lay its hands on.

As for the sense of ethereal otherness and magic, the production positively teems with it

A distinctly republican smell hovers over this Dream, set in motion by Ed Gaughan’s Irish warm-up Peter Quince. His quicksilver introduction embraces a ruby description of ancient Athens – "a more stable economy with a homosexual subculture, not unlike Brighton" - and a rich anti-royalist vein: "We're buying a yacht for the Queen to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee in the worst economic crisis since the war. Now that shows a real sense of being in touch with the people, doesn’t it?" He finishes by winding up the audience by promising a surprise guest star to play Bottom - one Gary Oldman.

Shouts of delirious anticipation from the audience prove premature. With more false starts than a Middle East peace settlement, this Filter constantly up-ends expectations, climaxing in a flour-strewn all-out brawl that David Hayes and Dereck Chisora might have revelled in. Lysander (John Lightbody) and Demetrius (Simon Manyonda) even resort to pistols. But this mayhem is set within strict parameters. As Ferdy Roberts’ insufferable know-it-all stagehand Puck (pictured right) reminds us, these are but shadows, echoes of an idle dream. We have but slumbered here. All will be well.

Oh, that life could always put its disasters so neatly by. But in the interim, Holmes provides young audiences with an entree to Shakespeare that is constantly inventive, often very funny, and which loses its philosophical way only towards the end. Whilst great chunks of, to Filter’s mind, unnecessary (and presumably boring) narrative have been jettisoned, so too has some of the poetry and, more tellingly, the sense of love as a restorative and healing power.

In between, we have Waterloo Road’s Mark Benton taking on Bottom as the Oldman stand-in. He is drawn out of the audience in a conceit that inevitably soon expires but proves extraoardinarily apt, gradually taking over as a hard rock fan initiating songs into the proceedings. We have tons of blue spray paint (love-in-idleness, don’t you know!), rambler tents and, best of all, Jonathan Broadbent’s Oberon – small and bespectacled, his accident-prone Superman-cum-Batman is a delicious satirical swipe at the usual autocrat who dominates events.

As for the sense of ethereal otherness and magic, courtesy of mikes and digital sound devices, the production positively teems with it. Designer Hyemi Shin provides a set that resembles a crummy, rundown dance hall and tiled bath-house, surrounded by paper walls that create a fantastic source of unexpected and explosive exits and entrances. All in all a mixed blessing but, for at least two-thirds of the duration, a hugely entertaining one.

Comments

I think it is absurd to think that children cannot watch and enjoy A Midsummer Night's Dream. We have got to a point where the only company actually doing Shakespeare as Shakespeare in the Globe theatre. It is no longer inventive to deconstruct Shakespeare when everyone is doing it. There is now even a "Hip Hop Shakespeare Company" being funded for kids when there is not ONE traditional company outside the RSC being funded. I think the poster for this was extremely misleading as the design promised a tradition production. It is no wonder the Globe is filled to the rafters and unlike this company does not need huge amounts of funding. How arrogant of these people to think that the need to "fix" Shakespeare but use tax payers money to do it. When there are several full cast Shakespeare companies Like the Globe and the brilliant British Shakespeare Company performing to sell out audiences in tradition productions without the need for government money. 7b7h7ex

James, You have a point. There's certainly a sound argument for wondering why directors are so nervous of Shakespeare that they feel it has to be `dumbed down' or doctored in some way in order to appeal to today's young audiences. There are moments when Filter appear to be going too far down that track but they are also ceaselessly and refreshingly inventive. The Globe too is one of my favourites but I also long for a company who can bring subtextual subtlety to Shakespeare. That appears to have gone completely out of fashion. And we're the poorer for it.

Just to copy and past something I already pasted under the Guardian review: "Gah, Trade Descriptions Act! I don't get it - just do another play if you think Shakespeare's boring. Like the Ostermeier Hamlet, this is lots of p*ssing around on stage, the director seemingly afraid of sincerity or real feeling. The actors are made to hurtle around hectically in case anyone gets bored. Lots of food thrown around, things squirted, etc. in the German style. This isn't drama at all, just terror of being boring. Not a story, not a drama: more like a clown act in the circus. Be more honest and just do a new clown act, don't bolt it onto A Midsummer's Night's Dream. If you're jaded with sincere readings of the play, just avoid reviving it - nobody's making you revive it. Whatever this cost could have been used to create a genuine, new clown piece. Still love the Lyric though! It wasn't boring, so Sean succeeded there! It just wasn't Shakespeare or drama, either, is the thing that got my goat. I'm a purist and proud!"

I watched this 'Performance' on Wednesday as part of a school trip. I was not impressed. There were young viewers for whom the events were extremely too sexual. The first twenty minutes were simply talking, I came to see a play, not a monologue. It claimed to be Shakespeare, but was more of a mockery of his literature. It vaguely followed the storyline with completely irrelevant scenes added. If it had been named differently, then perform what you wish, but do not claim it is Shakespeare. Nothing of Shakespeare's writing needed altering for enjoyment, so if you desire more excitement, write your own play.

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters