Performance, with the quirks, tensions and joys that come with it, remains at the centre of Mark France’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the latest from Well-Fangled Theatre who gave us The Revenger’s Tragedy last year. With a self-proclaimed gender fluid casting, the actors leap about bare foot in minimal costumes, most of which are made from brown paper or cardboard. As a further reminder of the dual reality of play and player, these costumes and props remained hung across the back of the stage, under each actor’s name, and this area also became an ‘off-stage’ space as well. It was these peculiarities, along with a lively cast, that lifted this memorable production of Midsummer.
Games felt like a recurring theme throughout this performance, be it the childish playing of the mechanicals or love-games of Oberon and Titania, and the brown-paper costuming from Simon Jarvis and Abigail Woodman (with the charming addition of silver wire headpieces for fairies) tied in well with this. Alexander King provided us with an underscoring of light and quirky guitar music for the performance too, but it was the infectious enthusiasm of all the cast that really added to this playful and whimsical atmosphere.
Anna Rose James (Philostrate/Snug/Puck) and Patricia Jones must first be noted as stand out members of this energetic cast. James was an elfish and mischievous Puck who paired well with Josie Campbell’s stern and cocksure Oberon as well as Bill Laughey’s Titania, and Jones’ comic timing as Bottom remained an ongoing highlight of the whole performance. Both were well supported by a well-rehearsed and tight-knit cast who played off one another with ease. Jamie McKeller (Demetrius/Quince/Cobweb) and Amy Fincham (Helena/Starveling/Mustardseed) gave funny and earnest performances, particularly as the lovers. We also saw Claire Morley as Lysandra (who also appeared in York Shakespeare Project’s Pericles and Henry V) and the return of Hattie Patten-Chatfield, who played Castiza in Well-Fangled’s A Revenger’s Tragedy, as a feisty Hermia. The chemistry between these two was some of the best in the whole production – with their scenes always remaining engaging.
France’s decision to mix up gender and bring in new meanings to some of the relationships we saw played on stage met with varying success. Morley’s Lysandra created a new dimension for the couple, with her gender being an additional reason for Egeus’ wrath, and Jones’ Nikki Bottom felt like a natural transition from the original character. At times, however, the switches felt confused or meaningless. Some characters were ‘gender-blind’ (such as Jones’ Egeus and James’ Philostrate), whilst others changed gender, making it unclear if these castings had some hidden meaning or were simply convenient. The gender swap for Campell and Laughey’s Hippolyta/Oberon and Theseus/Titania certainly felt believable, but did not add much to the overall performance.
These quibbles aside, France’s Midsummer is vibrant and unique, and its compact cast and design gave the play a freshness in places where the old jokes could not. This production has now completed it’s run, but you can keep up to date with Well-Fangled on their website here.