Sitting in Wilton’s Music Hall on a sticky summer evening during a heatwave, it is not hard to find yourself lulled into the tale of four delirious lovers, fairies and magic. The Faction’s latest production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes a play that we think we know, strips it of all previous associations and traditions, and rebuilds it in a fresh and novel voice.
Actors perform in contemporary costumes with a modern swagger, and 21st century gesturing gives the play a relevant and instantly recognisable tone. Indeed, The Faction’s director talks of the significance of the play today: climate change, arranged marriages, post-war environments and a Royal Wedding; their great imagination has given a traditionally well-known play a new life.
With a cast of only 8 and the actors often doubling or even tripling up in character regardless of their genders, the already frenzied play reaches new levels of chaos and disorientation. That said, transitions between characters are neat and swift, be it through accents (swift transitions between Welsh, Scouse and Yorkshire were consistent and well-done) or purely body language and movement. There is not a single weak link within the cast, however I applaud in particular Laura Evelyn’s self-deprecating Helena: she is not only heart-breaking but also hilarious, and takes some of the more uncomfortable moments (I thought it impossible not to cringe at “I am your Spaniel”) giving them a much more light-hearted feel. Christopher York makes impressive transitions between smooth-talking and confident Demetrius and Snout, whose anxiety and stress permeate the entire theatre to great comic effect. Christopher Hughes as Bottom is riotous and has no trouble putting the audience in stitches, however there is a certain control in his performance which is also highly commendable. Whilst Linda Marlowe’s performance as Puck is remarkable, it feels out of place in this production filled with modernity, and I found both her backwards-cap and old-school performance slightly jarring within this specific version of the play.
Chaos is contrasted with the stark backdrop of Wilton Music Hall, the set bare with the exception of a large, moon-like paper lantern. Instead of a complex set design, the scenes are accompanied by exceptionally vivid lighting by Ben Jacobs. The Wilton provides a blank slate for the company’s imagination to run wild, and the creativity of the result is outstanding; the cast create an ass’s head out of their arms and hands, and Marlowe as Puck jumps nimbly onto Hughes’ back when first casting her spell.
At times, there is little subtlety in the performance, with the overtly sexual and fighting scenes often being overplayed for laughs; whilst this worked well, I did feel that sometimes it went past tongue-in-cheek to just being plain crass.
This is not your traditional Shakespearean performance, but The Faction have taken a play that everybody knows and done something innovative and (dare I say it) better.
By Emma Quick