Review: MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, Wilton's Music Hall

Flabbergast Theatre’s vaudeville take on Midsummer Night’s Dream staggers the senses, if not the mind.

By: Apr. 11, 2024
Review: MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, Wilton's Music Hall
Enter Your Email to Unlock This Article

Plus, get the best of BroadwayWorld delivered to your inbox, and unlimited access to our editorial content across the globe.




Existing user? Just click login.

Review: MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, Wilton's Music Hall Serving as a kind of Barber of Seville of theatre, Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the most accessible of Shakespeare’s plays. Its blend of mystic romance, daffy dramatists and fairy-powered shenanigans is not short on rambunctious comedy turns but, in the hands of Flabbergast Theatre, that aspect is turned up to eleven.

Founded by Henry Maynard in 2010, the company found early success with puppet shows featuring the characters of Boris and Sergey but has recently pivoted towards staging Shakespearean classics. It has never veered too far from its original mission “to make uncompromising and exciting physical theatre in a belief that all theatre should be engaging and sweaty” and, through healthy doses of clowning and commedia dell’arte, they definitely achieve that here.

Review: MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, Wilton's Music Hall
Photo credit: Michael Lynch

Their latest production is the second in this direction following 2021’s The Tragedy Of Macbeth and follows the same playbook to a great extent. Those who grab their seats early will be treated to an immersive rehearsal of sorts as some actors warm up on stage and others sit in the pews passing comment or whispering informative asides (“that’s a Polish poem” said one into my right ear). 

Once things get going, it’s clear that this is no po-faced rendition but one absolutely befitting this music hall and its vaudeville roots. Oberon flounces around on stilts while wearing a shiny gold mankini, dialogue is projected with ballistic force into the auditorium and every farcical element is played up to the max. Love rivals square up and fight with a sword, bunches of flowers or a hefty knee to the nads. Thespian nuance is shunted aside in favour of camp theatrics, gleeful absurdity and vigorous clowning. 

Something is inevitably lost in all this fracas and that is often the sweet lyricism of the bard’s poetry and his deft plotting. Those seeing this play for the first time may soon feel as lost as the characters as, the further we go, it is hard to keep track of who is who, what is what and just what an Indian changeling boy has to do with anything. The sentiments are all present and correct but delivered within such a narrow range of high emotion that sarcasm and sincerity can be hard to tell apart.

Review: MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, Wilton's Music Hall
Photo credit: Michael Lynch

A consequence of this high farce approach is that, by poking fun of the central love stories through pratfalls and some supreme silliness, it leaves the mechanicals and their slapstick antics somewhat redundant or even towards the end, somehow, the least humorous parts of this radical re-telling. Having the main cast double up as mechanicals under rubber masks adorned with fake busy eyebrows and moustaches is a fine touch. 

Maynard may consider himself a revolutionary in the theatrical ranks but lets himself down by sticking too closely to an original script which is, by modern standards, longer in the tooth than a narwhal. It often drags and this production drags with it, especially in the opening acts where exposition is thrown out like bales of hay. A judicious pruning to bring the running time under two hours would not be unwelcome.

Review: MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, Wilton's Music Hall
Photo credit: Michael Lynch

Paulina Krzeczkowska is as good a Hermia as I’ve ever seen, her powerful voice and precise diction backing up her direct style of acting. Across from her, Vyte Garriga is an excellent Helena who commands the stage around her even when beset by her two suddenly-amorous lovers. Nadav Burstein (Demetrius) and Elliot Burstein (Lysander) do well to keep up with these two amid the constant japery. Krystian Godlewski’s clowning around is joyful as the frenetic Oberon commanding his wonderfully impish Puck (Lennie Longworth).

Some questionable directorial decisions aside, there is plenty to admire here as Flabbergast make very good use of their limited budget. The combination of bold staging - a huge cart at the back is the only major feature - and dazzling movement design allows the actors full licence to explore the space around them. Rachel Shipp’s lighting is an absolute winner with the use of overhead spotlights for mood and handheld ones to cast shadows giving this production a real boost. Costuming is another high point with Bottom’s stylish green tartan suit and the aforementioned mankini at one end and the simple but beautiful dresses worn by Krzeczkowska and Garriga at the other. 

A Midsummer Night's Dream continues at Wilton's Music Hall until 20 April.

Photo credit: Michael Lynch




Comments

To post a comment, you must register and login.

Vote Sponsor


Videos