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A Midsummer Night’s Dream

by on 18 May 2022

Jubilee Japes

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

by William Shakespeare, adapted by Paul Stacey

Reading Rep at Reading Rep Theatre until 5th June

Review by Nick Swyft

Shakespeare’s plays have been with us for for over four hundred years and their presentation is constantly updated to relate to modern audiences.  So it is fitting that the final play in the Reading Rep: Reborn season (which celebrates the reopening in its new playhouse on the King’s Road campus in Reading following the pandemic) should pay homage to the Bard.  Reading Rep has been going for around ten years and continues to go from strength to strength.

This production, based with some apologies (and a few generous cuts) on Shakespeare’s text, is a play within a play, within a play, within a play … etc.  Confused? …  You will be!  While the format is entertaining, there could be a limit to how far you can go with this.

Reading Rep’s Artistic Director, Paul Stacey’s adaption of A Midsummer Night’s Dream has a touring troupe arrive in Reading intent on performing in celebration of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.   The result turns out to be what critics call “memorable”.

The show is presented as a set of rehearsals for a play called Bottom’s Dream (conceived and written by Bottom).  David Fishley cuts an imposing figure as the domineering bombastic playwright cum director cum player, who casts himself in the aristocratic roles of all the kings (Theseus, Oberon) … because it is his play.  The actual text from the real A Midsummer Night’s Dream is apparently cobbled together by him on the fly – he has never heard of Shakespeare!

We know the plot of course.  Mark Desebrook plays Lysander as very much the man-in-the-frame.   He loves Hermia, played with aplomb by Charlotte Warner, and since she is betrothed to him, all would seem right with the world.  However, she is swayed by the advances of Jonty Peach’s laddish Demetrius.  When King Theseus reminds her of the grisly fate that awaits if she should go against her father’s wishes and betray her fiancé, Beth Eyre’s feisty yet pragmatic Helena interrupts the rehearsal to make an apposite comment on the way Bottom’s Dream treats women.  This is amusing, but it provides a modern mind-set for the rest of the play, which may not be what is intended.

For example, the misogyny in the text is extended by Helena’s reactions to her unrequited love for Demetrius and his behaviour.  His threats are very dark and at best definitely kinky by today’s standards!  Shakespeare lived in different times.  Then again, Shakespeare tells us “Cupid is a knavish lad, thus to make poor females mad”.

Of course, that is overthinking things.  This is a fun and energetically acted performance, which would serve to ease younger audiences into Shakespeare, for A Midsummer Night’s Dream remains one of his more popular plays, especially at this time of year.  Although these days the incompetent fairies might be referred to some higher office for the distress they cause, the scene where Titania, played with great versatility by Amy Ambrose, falls in love with a donkey in the form of Bottom is well executed and still makes us laugh.

Beware though, do not try this at home.  A few jugs and more drugs, even Titania’s natural herbal ones, are not recommended for your local celebrations of our own Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

Or else, the last word will go to Bottom, “I had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was…”

Nick Swyft, May 2022

Photography by Harry Elletson

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