Theatre: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is perhaps one of Shakespeare’s best known comedies. The tale of lovers escaping Athenian law only to fall under the spell of the fairy king, Oberon, and his mischievous servant, Puck, and of good-hearted but easily misguided working men attempting to perform a play of their own for their Duke, must have been performed thousands of times in hundreds of different ways since Shakespeare first penned it.

The audience for Torch Theatre’s production (joint with Mappa Mundi and Theatre Mwldan) at Aberystwyth Arts Centre was not a large one, but that did not in the least diminish the energy of the performances given. Displaced from Greece and set in WWII, this production really sought out the comedy within the text and went for it, full throttle. Bottom, as portrayed by Liam Tobin, was at once charming and confident enough to capture the affections of his acquaintances (and the audience) and yet dim-witted enough to pull off some very broad comedy. Puck was constantly on the move, pulling faces and feats of flexibility, keeping the eyes of the audience on him even when he was supposed to be invisible. Francois Pandolofo’s commitment to the liveliness of the character was certainly something to be admired, even though it may have been considered slightly over the top in a less melodramatic production.

Even the plight of the lovers- a feisty Hermia, a cocky, American Lysander, an insipid (a little bit too insipid) Helena and a straight-laced Demetrius- was played more for laughs than for romance. Peter Doran’s direction really played up the idea of the lovers as playthings of Puck’s, who, with a glance back to Demetrius towards the close of the play, reminds us that he and Oberon have ultimately had control over their fates, so questioning how long the love-in-idleness happiness of Demetrius and Helena can last. The performances when all four lovers were in the woods were highly physical, plenty of leg-grabbing and shoving punctuated outbursts of insults and typically flowery declarations of love.

Much praise must be given, however, to the Mechanical’s performance of Pyramus and Thisbe in the final minutes. It’s a scene that is always a favourite, and this was no exception. Nervous Flute as painted Thisbe in a padded dress had the audience in hysterics as Thisbe wailed to her love. Bottom’s unconvincing toupe was a nice touch, as was the cheery face of Snout as a wall, just happy to have any part in the production.

One or two directorial decisions did not seem as up to standard as the rest of the production. Despite some excellent minimalist set design- the tree silhouettes on hanging plastic sheeting to give depth to the forest was great- and appropriate attire from the costume department, little was made of the WWII setting. I worried before going in that this change of location would impact negatively upon the play, but aside from the affect it had the musical nuances and one or two blares of the air sirens, more could have been made of this; not overly so, but it almost felt redundant in what it could have said about the play on a level beyond the aesthetic and audial. Another quirk that seemed a bit off base were the few flashes of interpretive dance from Titania during her soliloquies. It added dimension to the character in some respects (given that she actually features sparsely throughout) but contrasted maybe a bit too much with the brash physicality from the rest of the performers.

In my mind, this was a worthwhile production of one of the Bard’s more enduring plays. It did not necessarily bring anything new to the table, but the commitment of the actors to their performances and the choice to chase the comedy rather than any deeper meaning made it accessible and thoroughly entertaining.