Berkshire-based Watermill Theatre have been delighting audiences at home and abroad since the 1960’s – and over 4 nights this week at Northern Stage, their production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream has enchanted northern theatre-goers.
Shakespeare, coupled with a two-and-a-half-hour-long performance, might prove a bit intimidating – but under the expert direction of Paul Hart, this ensemble of actor-musicians created something very different, with a deftly employed soundtrack – all sung live by the cast – from artists such as Sam Cooke, Nina Simone and Laura Mvula.
It is true that in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare does deal with some pretty pertinent issues around gender and where we all fit in. It has to be said that the Watermill ensemble have chosen not to delve overly deeply into a subject that’s as relevant and pressing today, as it was when the Duke of Athens was preparing to get hitched to the Queen of the Amazonians, but that doesn’t detract from the inventive re-telling of one the Bard’s most performed works.
A further departure from the original comes with the gender-neutral casting. Emma Barclay is outstanding as Bottom, while Molly Chesworth’s Puck was accomplished. Puck’s encounter with a troop of suited-and-booted fairies was a particular highlight of the depth of stage-craft on display.
Lysander (played by Billy Postlethwaite) and Mike Slader’s Demetrius were also exceptionally entertaining as rivals fighting for the beautiful Helena’s hand. Using every inch of the impressive set, they didn’t hold-back in their toe-to-toe fisticuffs, much to the enjoyment of the captivated crowd I joined on Thursday.
The emotion was also palpable (and familiar to many) as the big forest argument kicked-off. We might not have let-rip at our other-half in a woodland recently, but the sentiments were clear – as everyone reaches the point sometimes when they can’t ‘keep a lid on it’ any longer. (Don’t they?!)
If you can catch this production in the coming months, you will – I’m sure, rush home afterwards and add ‘Cupid’, ‘I Put a Spell on You’, ‘Sing to the Moon’, ‘Blue Moon’ and ‘My Baby Just Cares for Me’ – to your playlist, as these songs were delivered with such feeling and enthusiasm by the talented cast, that I’ve been humming them ever since.
The layer of musicality woven into the production, the actor’s obvious love of their craft, together with everything both Watermill Theatre and Northern Stage stand for, has made ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ one of my ‘Top 3’ productions of 2019 so far. Four Stars.
Colin Petch – September 2019