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Dream

by on 21 February 2020

Other-Worldly Visual Delight

Dream

by Katie Abbott, based on William Shakespeare

RSS Young Actors’ Company at the Mary Wallace Theatre, Twickenham until 23rd February

Review by Eleanor Marsh

There have been many adaptations and interpretations of most of Shakespeare’s plays. I have seen A Midsummer Night’s Dream set in World War II, in a travelling fairground (think My Big Fat Gypsy Dream) and more times than I can count in a more traditional setting. The BBC’s Shakespeare Retold series took us to a holiday resort where Lennie James and Sharon Small battled it out as Oberon and Titania – fairies living in the surrounding woods – and Johnny Vegas played Bottom the security guard hoping to make it onto the entertainments staff. I remember watching the entire Shakespeare Retold series and finding this particular episode the least convincing. Despite the all-star cast and the fact that it is possibly Shakespeare’s most accessible play, trying to update the plot itself, rather than playing with settings of time and place, just did not work. The crossover of “real” and “fairy” worlds in the 21st century was taking suspension of disbelief a little too far. I felt a similar problem at the Mary Wallace Theatre this week.

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Dream is a mix of Shakespearean dialogue, modern dialogue (including some expletives that did not sit quite right in context, but must have been a treat for the performers to play with!) and music that attempts to weave the plotline into a climate change themed morality tale. It is an ambitious, big ask that on paper works beautifully. It is also evident that the entire cast are passionate about what they are doing and the message they are conveying. However, a mix of poor diction and voice projection, and a lot of the dialogue being directed upstage made it very difficult to follow the storyline. This audibility problem was compounded by an extremely loud musical underscore to much of the dialogue, which totally drowned out the young voices. Only the mechanicals managed to avoid this fate as they were fortunate to be performing their “play” downstage, facing the audience and with no musical accompaniment. They were very funny.

The design element of this production was excellent – it is a visual delight of both wardrobe and set design that immediately gives the impression that the audience are going to experience something other-worldly. Video projections are used throughout the piece and are very clever but a little distracting at times, although effective at others. My preference would have been for more burning planet and less Greta Thunberg, although in the context of switching a lot of the focus of the play to Shakespeare’s Changeling Child it did make sense to feature her. Despite the soundtrack being overly loud the use of music is excellent and it was particularly good to see under twenty year olds giving their all to songs by David Bowie and Elvis Presley, which were well chosen and quite poignant.

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As well as directing the play, Katie Abbott is also responsible for choreography, which includes working on aerial silks. This is such a difficult thing to do that it deserves special mention; several of the cast spent time in and on the “hammocks” and made it look so easy –impressive indeed!

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Dream is a nicely constructed ensemble piece with each person on stage being given a moment in the spotlight and every one of them giving their all. And it was good to see that RSS have given so much practical support to the youth group, which is their future. The performances were uniformly of good quality visually. Congratulations to all concerned on such a stunning looking production. I just wish I could have heard more of it!

Eleanor Marsh
February 2020

Photography by Tom Shore

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