When Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream spandex was yet to be invented. But when the Mechanicals enter in the final act to perform their play-within-a-play, Pyramus and Thisbe, artistic director Robert Hastie doesn’t let this hold him back. In what can only be described as a glam-rock extravaganza – think platform boots and glitter in perhaps the strangest ode to KISS ever witnessed – we watch them perform to the equally stunned on-stage wedding audience. Shakespeare’s classic comedy about four young lovers and a group of amateur actors who are manipulated by fairies is turned completely on its head.
The production appears to take its cue from Chiara Stephenson’s set; the circular stage is empty except for a central grand piano. It is a focal point throughout the performance, inventively utilised by Puck (Bobby Delaney) for his entrance, viewing platform, and popcorn stash. A fantastic musical score is provided by The Feeling’s Dan Gillespie Sells – yes, the frontman to the same indie band that wrote such memorable hits (not heard since primary school) as “Love It When You Call” and “Fill My Little World” – who co-created the hit West-End Musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. There is a more than a touch of Jamie in Delaney’s Puck, with his blond crop and sparkly vest top, as he wreaks his camped-up havoc on the unsuspecting Athenians.
However, in Hastie’s colourful production, the Mechanicals subplot overshadows the rest of the performance. The opening scene is cut too short, with Hermia’s father, Egeus, completely removed. The impression is rushed, causing the lover’s performances to feel constrained; they lack the anticipated euphoria and abandon for a group spellbound with passion. Their energetic slapstick performance in the middle of the play, whilst amusing, feels somewhat gimmicky. Still, Evelyn Miller is worth mentioning for her strong performance as Helena: she speaks with the most awareness and emotional commitment of the quartet.
In order to deliver the heavenly impression of the fairy world, it seems Stephenson has gone quite literally celestial. A giant moon hangs above the stage for the entire duration of the play, excepting when it divides to become Titania and Bottom’s bed. The background also draws to reveal a sky full of model planets as part of the finale. Whilst outlandish, the spectacle (along with the shorter script length) is a welcome to those who may otherwise find Shakespeare intimidating. Silliness is fully embraced in this highly accessible production. There is an excellently diverse cast with almost all of them doubling as fairies; they are rarely offstage yet always display real energy and comic timing – with Francesca Mills’ tap dancing lion a particular highlight. The production is ideal for those looking to see a re-imagination of Shakespeare’s classic comedy or those wishing to give the Bard another go since GCSE.
Header image: Sheffield Theatres