Having seen and enjoyed two of director Mark Leipacher's¹ previous shows with his physical-theatre company The Faction, I returned for their take on A Midsummer Night's Dream. As with Macbeth the company goes for an edited version of the play - at two hours' running time not quite as heavily edited as Pocket Dream, although like Propeller's take this 8-strong cast also do the show in their jim-jams. Apart from in the final Pyramus and Thisbe scene there's no other costume which means, with the large amount of doubling necessary (most playing 3 roles,) that the actors are being leaned on very heavily to differentiate between their characters. To start with this doesn't work - the initial jump from young lovers to rude mechanicals is abrupt and confusing - but after this one slip-up, and helped by Matthew Graham's lighting, the various story threads are handled well.
Obviously movement features heavily again, here mostly in the depiction of the fairies who have a rather stylised way of moving. This sort of thing always teeters between really working and just being irritating, and here the company almost always get it right, the only real slip into annoyance being Oberon and Titania's initial confrontation, where all the fluttering and stroking invisible balls² just distracts from the dialogue. Once the conceit is established it calms down a bit, and the undoubted highlight is the way four actors' arms are used to create the ass head. Joseph Wilkins' hyperactive, childlike Bottom sets the tone for a group of mechanicals who are more like toddlers, the final play coming across like a pre-school nativity play, complete with Sam Millard's Starveling getting stage fright. And I loved the running gag where Lekan Lawal's Snug kept his hands in "lion claws" at all times from the moment he's cast. The lovers (Millard again, Hannah Douglas as Hermia, Kate Sawyer as Helena³ and cute Haseeb Malik as Lysander) are a bit subdued until their big fight scenes in the forest which bring things back to the right level of insanity. So in general I seem to be coming back to the fact that, having established its characters and its ways of dealing with all the doubling, after a shaky start the production gets much stronger as it gets on. With an audience tonight that barely outnumbered the cast conditions weren't ideal for lots of big laughs but there were a few chuckles and I had a smile on my face most of the time. Maybe not an ideal first Dream but if you're familiar with the play it's a creative take on it.
A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare is booking until the 18th of June at the Brockley Jack Theatre and then continues on tour until mid-July.
¹I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say the programme crediting him as "writer/director" is a typo; otherwise that's all we need, more companies claiming to have "created" Shakespeare
³god, Helena's plan really sucks, doesn't it? "The other woman who's distracted my fiancé has left town forever. If I leave things alone, he, clearly being a tad fickle, will probably forget about her soon enough. Instead I shall tell him where to find her, thus keeping myself out of the running and in the process betraying Lysander and Hermia, and in theory risking the latter's death." Note to Helena: There is a reason you're not having much luck with men.