Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Sherman Theatre
It speaks to his genius that Shakespeare’s poetry and plays still have their place in the hearts and minds of modern audiences. Many are favoured not only for their timeless plots, but also for themes that still apply directly to 21st-century lives.
This is perhaps no more true than in the case of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. The story of escape from arbitrary laws, of finding freedom and the sometimes winding path to true love finds home with the marginalised LGBTQ+ community who still struggle under the same patriarchal authority that prevents Hermia and Lysana (Lysander) from their union.
It speaks to the budding genius of young writers Nia Morais and Mari Izzard then, that they have revitalised this comedy with masterful and inclusive touches to enhance the plot, alongside a poetic embrace of the Welsh language to this very end.
From simple and contemporary costuming by Elin Steele, to frequent fourth wall breaks – the fourth wall being the imaginary one that separates the actors from the audience – and a distinct pantomime tilt in favour of audience enjoyment and involvement, Sherman Theatre’s Midsummer Night’s Dream is refreshingly heavy on lightheartedness.
It is a concern of many that due to Shakespeare’s works becoming yet another thing for uninterested students to study, and the century-spanning upward social mobility of the theatre in general, young people tend to miss out on the beauty of plays such as this. This results in modern youth disregarding works that were written predominantly about them and their struggles, and the belief that Shakespeare was not a very funny or optimistic man.
Both of these concerns are disproved very quickly by the knee-slapping, toe-tapping, Globe-harking direction from Joe Murphy and Jac Ifan Moore, and performances that pull together the 17th and 21st century expertly.
The Welsh language is used predominantly in the scenes concerning the fairies and for those bewitched by their magic. In this way, Welsh heightens the production, bringing the mysticism of the forest’s beings together with an ancient tongue that is certainly no stranger to the supernatural.
Subtitles are available to those, such as myself, not fortunate enough to be fluent in Welsh and even this is a chance seized to bring actor and audience together. It is fitting then, that once the main characters have found their freedom, they switch from English to Welsh for the final act, delivering the moral in magical mother tongue.
On the other hand, Shakespeare fans will be satisfied by the original vocabulary that is still included in droves. Where changes are made to the original script, they are graceful and deliberate, reaching out to the audience through incredible performances and always in receipt of a laugh that bounces heartily around the auditorium.
In particular, Rebecca Wilson’s Helena, Leah Gaffey’s Puck, Tom Mumford’s Demetrius, Sion Ifan’s Oberon and Hannah McPake’s Peter Quince and his pack of thespians (Edward Lee, Cerys Morgan, Ariadne Koursarou, and Callum Davies) show off their comedic chops in deep and experienced knowledge of exactly what tone and movement will tickle the funny-bone.
On the other hand, more brooding performances from Nia Roberts’s Titania, and Lauren Morais’s Lysana keep the plot going strong with admirable command of their craft. Of course, Bottom is just as hilarious as ever, with the casting of Sion Pritchard possibly the best production decision.
Special mention must go to Dena Davies’s Hermia, who makes her acting debut in this challenging role. And what a capable debut it was! I’m sure I was not the only member of the audience filled with excitement for what is to come in this young actor’s career.
Connecting the old and the new, linking simple staging with performances that spill over with talent, Sherman Theatre is the perfect place to house this adaptation. The understated yet smart stage design by Elin Steele has a lot more to offer than first appears, and what first appears is a work of art in emerald green forestry and gold branches. The lighting choices by Andy Pike feel much the same as those made to the script, deliberate, stunning, and so well considered to carry the morals of this story to a modern audience that one can’t help but appreciate them.
In particular, Puck and Titania’s costumes catch the light beautifully, their gravitas heightened by the music of Eädyth Crawford and sound direction by Ian Barnard. Heady bass notes and sweeping chords work in perfect symbiosis with every other facet of the performance, creating atmosphere stunningly yet sparingly at only the necessary junctures.
The difference in the traditional clothing of the Athenian leaders and the delightfully youthful costuming of the younger characters is, once again, used to the purpose of modernising only what is necessary, and retaining what made the work so beloved in the first place. And of course, Callum Davies’s ‘the wall’ must be mentioned, whose forward performance and scant costuming are sure to have made some fellow reviewers hot under the collar at last night’s showing.
If you are not a Shakespeare fan, or if you are a Shakespeare lover full of scepticism for adaptations, this revitalised masterpiece will carry your worries away to the soothing backing track of ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’. As someone who thought they preferred the heavy moral discussion of King Lear and Macbeth, I can assure you that once the safety curtain descends after a well-deserved standing ovation, you may just have been converted by the efforts of this wonderfully talented cast and crew.
For an intimate and friendly performance, the themes of which capture the audience through classic and hilarious dialogue and soliloquy, Sherman Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a must-see.
The performance at Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre continues its run until October 29th, with both matinee and evening tickets, as well as accessible showings, available for purchase here or at the box office.
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