A Midsummer Night’s Dream review: Bringing out ‘Shakespeare’s sassy side’
The Sheffield Theatres production is a riotous take on the Shakespeare classic comedy
Shakespeare always had a sassy side. You don’t bang out classic comedies like Twelfth Night, Merchant of Venice and the rest of them without knowing how to raise an eyebrow as well as a laugh. But this modern take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the vision of Sheffield Theatres’ artistic director Robert Hastie, takes this famous fable and turns it into a riotous, glam-rock rollercoaster ride of love, lies and mischief.
For those of you not familiar with the plot, it tells the story of four intertwined lovers (Hermia, Helena, Lysander and Demetrius) whose affections are turned upside-down by meddling faeries; while in the background, a group of preposterous amateur actors, known as the Mechanicals, prepare for a performance at the forthcoming wedding of the Duke of Athens.
In places, this version plays fast and loose with Shakespeare’s original text – adding one liners and gelling the musical talents of The Feeling frontman and chief songwriter Dan Gillespie Sells to set some of the original text to music whilst also adding a couple of modern melodies of his own.
It starts reasonably conventionally as the dilemma of the four lead characters is set up in classic Shakespearean fashion; Demetrius is betrothed to Hermia but she loves Lysander, meanwhile Helena is head over heels for Demetrius but he barely knows she exists. But once Snug, Snout and the rest of the Mechanicals take to the stage, the tempo shifts and the laughs ramp up.
Daniel Rigby as the wonderfully over-the-top Nick Bottom is hilarious throughout. It’s a gem of part with lots of the best lines but Rigby effervesces throughout, and really only Bobby Delaney as Puck and Sophia Nomvette as Quince can hold a candle to him, even though the rest of the cast are all perfectly accomplished.
Hastie and his backstage team have done a wonderful job too, especially in the way they have used the round of The Crucible. The staging is simple for the most part, often simply decorated with just a piano and a star scattered floor while the Midsummer moon hangs from the rafters and casts its glow over the evening’s proceedings. It looks stylish, sophisticated and there are enough tricks and treats to keep the audience interested.
But this show is all about the climax. We’d tittered and sniggered in the hour and half that proceeded it but the final play within the play, as the amateur troupe entertain the Duke and his guests at his wedding, is genuinely pant-wettingly funny.
Gillespie Sells and Hastie turn this closing chapter into a laugh-riot of Queen-inspired glam rock over-the-topness which sees a male belly button given centre stage in a way I’ve never seen before, and if I’m honest, hope I never see again. If you’re not smiling outrageously from ear-to-ear by the conclusion, then I suspect you’re dead inside.
So if you love Shakespeare, then this twist on one of his most well-known comedies will take you somewhere you’ve never been before. But if you’re a non-believer, then it’s time to give the bard another chance. A Midsummer Night’s Dream review by Phil Turner
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is running at the Crucible Theatre until 20 October.
Brought to you by our Culture section sponsors, citu.co.uk.