Entering the Southwark Playhouse, I felt more as though I was about to be given a presentation regarding the church roof than enjoying a Shakespeare play. A profile seating formation with a small table in the centre surrounded by a troupe of actors. No set, no lights and no fuss and yet, this is possibly the best interpretation I have ever seen of ‘A Midsummer Nights Dream’.
Upon hearing the play was 110 minutes with no interval, I did fear I would be wriggling around in my seat a lot. Then seeing no set, I began to get the gist of what was to come. I realised I was not in for a night of fabulous costumes or pretty lighting effects, however I never expected to experience the utter joy I felt watching this fantastic piece of theatre!
The cast are astounding, with not one weak link and every one pulling together to create an ensemble piece, the likes of which I have never seen in a Shakespearean play. With seventeen characters being played by just seven is a mammoth task in itself, but to execute it with such dedication and craft is remarkable to watch. Every individual was a joy to behold and kept a ridiculous grin carved over my mouth throughout.
Simon Evans’ direction is superb. With small tweaks and trims to the classic text, he creates an easily accessible piece for every age that works on pretty much every level. All too often presentations of this play is over complicated and pompous. However, Evans has stripped it bare, given it a snog and shoved into the harsh light of the stage. The result is (I imagine) far closer to what the audience’s of 1605 would have experienced. A bawdy and sexy play with mountains of audience participation and very little break in the laughter.
This is not a production to miss, and as referenced in the play, we live in an age where all the imagining is done for you. If you see this, not only will your imagination soar but your belly will hurt from laughing, and your cheeks ache from smiling. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate four hundred years of William Shakespeare’s work than seeing this interpretation. Whether you’re a purist who carries a well thumbed copy of the complete works, or someone who hasn’t heard the name Shakespeare since GCSE’s, do yourself a favour and see this play. Take your gran, your kids or even the cat just don’t miss it!
Reviewed by Jimmy Richards
Photo: Harry Grindrod
A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM plays at Southwark Playhouse until 1 July 2016