Have you ever thought of Shakespeare as a funny, timeless, and relatable playwright? If not, the Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream will undoubtedly change your mind.
Right from the first scene, it is clear that this production is not periodic. The actors wear shirts and blazers; one holds a cigarette, giving the impression of a Parisian setting in the late 20th century. Jazz music accompanies the play throughout – reinforcing the 20th-century atmosphere that keeps the production engaging. Although Jazz music is a fitting addition to the play, the songs are out of place. They are often arbitrary and do not match the atmosphere on-stage, consequently breaking up the tension built.
At first, the staging seems weak, as the actors perform dialogues while standing statically on stage. However, as the Shakespearian language becomes familiar and the cast warms up, the play draws the audience into a tale of fairies, a” love-square”, and a company of six actors. Mesmerizing costumes and jazz tunes accompanying the fairies’ dances complete the mystical atmosphere of the show. If there is ever a good use of a smoke machine, it is in this production. Nothing else is needed to render the forest inhabited by the queen and king of the fairies.
When Oberon (Haig Lucas) and Puck (Priya Basra) enter, the stage lightens with a delightfully mischievous, mad energy. Lucas’ and Basra’s impish facial expressions and stage presence lure the audience into the mystical forest as they plot romances between the four lovers. In contrast to the shining costumes of the fairies, the lovers fall a little short. But the tension around them, especially the performance of witty Helena (Isabelle Hodgson) and amorous Lysander (Archie Barrington), make these scenes a pleasure – even if the volume of the music or the shouting is sometimes excessive.
However, the best part of the production is the six (bad) actors. The great chemistry and intentional delivery of Shakespeare’s lines make the audience forget that they are listening to language from over 400 years ago. The actors successfully induce the audience to laughter and bring Shakespeare to our time. Their silly yet highly theatrical fourth-wall-breaking performance is the star of the show. Max Prentice dexterously merges with Bottom’s character and persuades the audience into believing every line he speaks. Suddenly, you no longer feel like an audience member of A Midsummer Night’s Dream because you are effortlessly drawn in by the actors’ performance. Unexpectedly, the audience finds themselves in the same position as Theseus, Hippolyta and the four lovers at their wedding scene, watching the theatre performance of the play’s company of actors.
Overall, the cast’s energy and the effortless way they incorporated modern language where appropriate makes this an enjoyable evening that never fails to surprise and is sure to make you think differently about 16th-century poetry.
Edinburgh University ShakeSoc’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs from the 9th March, 2022 to 10th April, 2022.
Image via Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company