Does Shakespeare's magical play A Midsummer Night's Dream actually remain magical after an artistic and directorial decision remove Theseus and Hippolyta completely from the story and replace their regal authority with Titania and Oberon on the Athenian throne – a combination of both human and yet fairy-like? Does the choice to cast Oberon as a strikingly beautifully woman in a gently quasi lesbian relationship with Titania add anything to the savage disparity the fairy couple have over ownership over an Indian boy? Does the choice not to have any of the young fairies doting on Bottom as an asinine figure of fun/lust in the play work in their absence? Does the important word and theme of doting (from the verb dotten in Old German meaning to be foolish or deranged) carry weight in Nottingham New Theatre's production at Lakeside? Remarkably, quite possibly so, albeit with a few reservations in the additional modernity of the language.
és pictorial image of Oberon and Titania (Les Fées) that has inspired generations of creators of versions of A Midsummer Night's Dream depicts the fairy god and goddess as both being very feminine. In Nottingham New Theatre's production this works acceptably enough excepting the need for more emotional argument between their Oberon (Emily Brady) and Titania (Rachel Connelly). The delivery of the Shakespearian language on the whole is expressive and handled well but there needs to be more bitterness and frustration between the couple to make sense of their falling out and cruel tricks laid on by Oberon and Puck (a delightfully bonkers Laura Jayne Bateman). The lack of the rather saccharine young fairies scarcely seems to matter in this production as all is fast faced and energetic. The fairies fluffing about being whimsical and sweetly poetic and flowery would just slow matters down in director Martin Berry's sparkling production for Nottingham New Theatre at Lakeside.
Very impressive is Titania's command over the hapless Nick Bottom played admirably by student actor Ben Maries. The quixotic scene where she darkly pulls the enchanted Bottom back into her proverbial web has great strength. I love the transformation into an ass with only a hat with ears, a false beard and some goofy teeth. It allows great facial dexterity in the actor playing Bottom and Maries excels in this regard as well as his pomposity and over the top acting in the court scene playing Pyramus and Thisbe.
The rude mechanicals (Nick Gill) as Flute, (Beth Wilson) as Snug, (Eoin Buckley) as Snout and Louise Knapp (excellent as Peter Quince) all exude great energy and enthusiasm throughout every woodland scene and are especially funny in the 'play within a play' section at the latter end of the play itself. One small criticism that jars is the addition of modern language interspersing Shakespeare's already funny situations with the mechanicals. Although they add the odd extra laugh they are unnecessary.
Lovers Hermia (Jessica Millott), Hermia (Libby Boyd), Lysander (James Roscow) and Demitrius (Daniel O'Connor) work inordinately well with each other within the text. They make each line depicting the confusion brought on by enchantment realistic both comically and dramatically. All their vibrant scenes are a joy to watch and much energy is gained with their chase through the woods taunted by the dotty skitter scatter Puck.
The artistic choice to have Puck relate one of her (yes her) major speeches at the very start of the play works well in establishing her as a storyteller and introducing the totally feminine world of the fairies within the wood. Martin Berry has chosen to make cuts in the original text and this pared down version works well in keeping it tight, engaging and sexy. The gossamer and glitter set design by Dorrie Scott adds gloriously to the magic of the work and the atmospheric lighting and live piano music all pull the thing together into an enchanting whole. Perhaps the retention of Theseus and Hippolyta in the production may have added something to the emotional temperature of the work but this production is such fun I think they would have been mere party poopers.
A Midsummer Night's Dream plays at Lakeside Nottingham University until Saturday 2nd May.