A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Sunday 9th June, 2019
The Crescent’s summer touring production this year is Shakespeare’s enduring romantic comedy with a supernatural twist, and I am lucky enough to catch an indoor performance rather than brave the vagaries of the British summer!
This is an enjoyable, accessible production – Director Georgina Evans opts for modern-dress on a simple set of slender branches and fairy lights; although, I do find the draconian laws of Athens at odds with the familiarity of the attire. I think more needs to be made of the sheer unreasonableness of the patriarchy here (Marry whom I tell you to or be celibate for the rest of your life) and poor Hermia (Charlotte Thompson) needs to be more terrified/upset/resentful/what-have-you at the onset, so that when Lysander (the excellent Jacob Williams) steps forward with an escape plan, it comes as more of a relief, a desperate measure for desperate times. Hold up, I did say this is a comedy… In Shakespeare, a comedy is where the problems of the drama are overcome by the characters (as opposed to tragedy, where the characters are overcome by the problems). After this dark and severe (and potentially tragic) opening, the fun and frolics in the forest should come as sharper contrast. Evans has an eye for comic business, and it’s the little details, the interplay, the fleeting expressions, that bring the joy to this production.
Ollie Jones is Duke Theseus – he warms into the role as the play goes on, lacking the imperious tones and power of Andrew Cowie’s magnificent fairy king Oberon (special mention to Angela Daniels for his striking costume and headdress). Aimee Ferguson is a subdued Hippolyta, yet this conquered Amazon is not shy to express her views, through action, while Shady Murphy’s Titania is a dynamic presence. Les Stringer brings gravitas as the unreasonable Egeus, softening into a kind of Polonius figure when he is finally overruled by the Duke.
Charlotte Thompson has her moments as Hermia – particularly the slanging match with Jessica Shannon’s marvellous Helena. Jordan Bird is a pleasing Demetrius, vying with Jacob Williams’s Lysander – both do the lovestruck fool bit rather well. Dayna Bateman is thoroughly charming as the hardworking Puck, whose meddling in mortal affairs does not always go to plan.
The Mechanicals are a likeable bunch, led by ‘Rita’ Quince (Nicole Poole) with Scott Wilson’s Flute blossoming into a sublimely ridiculous Thisbe, towering over a diminutive Pyramus (Crescent stalwart James David Knapp having a crack at Bottom, so to speak). Knapp’s comic instincts are sound and I’d say he could afford to be even more bullish as Bottom dominates the group’s rehearsals.
While there are some line-readings that don’t quite come across, on the whole everyone handles the language rather well and with conviction, which is no mean feat when there are scenes comprised of rhyming couplets. Of course, the play-within-a-play provides the most laughs – it’s one of the funniest scenes in Shakespeare, in all theatre, probably, and the company do an excellent, raucous job with it. There’s a lovely celebratory feel to the closing moments and a rousing song to finish. Funny and sweet, the show would perhaps benefit from starker contrast between the dark and light to intensify the impact of both.
Top Bottom: James David Knapp (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)
Leave a comment | tags: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Aimee Ferguson, Andrew Cowie, Angela Daniels, Charlotte Thompson, Crescent Theatre Birmingham, Dayna Bateman, Georgina Evans, Jacob Williams, James David Knapp, Jessica Shannon, Jordan Bird, Les Stringer, Nicole Poole, Ollie Jones, review, Scott Wilson, Shady Murphy, William Shakespeare | posted in Review, Shakespeare, Theatre Review
Crescent Theatre, Saturday 30th September, 2017
David Hare’s 1995 play gets a well-deserved revival in this robust production in the Crescent’s Ron Barber studio. Set in the dowdy North London flat of Maths teacher Kyra Hollis (Alice Kennedy) it reveals the story of her past affair with restaurateur and self-made millionaire, Tom (Graeme Braidwood) through reminiscence and recollection as the protagonists are reunited after a separation of three years – during which time Tom’s wife has died. Guilty feelings abound. As a friend of the family, Kyra is also missed by Tom’s son Edward (Jacob Williams) who regards her as a big sister. Edward turns up out of the blue because his dad has become ‘unbearable’, and so begins an eventful night for Kyra…
As the youthful, mercurial Edward, Jacob Williams is a delight, veering between sweet and gauche with ease in a lively performance. Williams, whose appearances dovetail the main action, makes a lasting impression.
Alice Kennedy’s Kyra is mature (compared with Edward!) but also vulnerable. We glimpse her classroom manner from time to time and in plain sight is her passion for her vocation, her desire to give the help so desperately needed by society’s most downtrodden. There is strength here and also nuance.
Much the same can be said for Graeme Braidwood’s Tom. Opinionated and objectionable, he is also a character of passion. Yes, we may find his views abhorrent, the way he treats people as objects, but he comes across as a credible figure, thanks to Braidwood’s performance and of course to David Hare’s excellent writing.
Graeme Braidwood as Tom and Alice Kennedy as Kyra (Photo: Hannah Kelly)
As much a personal ding-dong as a political slanging match, the play emphasises the humanity of its arguments. The characters are rounded, contradictory and fleshed out beings not mere ciphers to illustrate a point.
Director Mark Payne maintains a level of energy throughout in this emotionally charged drama that is richly laced with humour. Braidwood’s delivery of Tom’s embittered barbs is impeccable and Williams’s Edward is amusingly observed and endearingly depicted – at least he is able to kick-start his relationship with Kyra again.
As ever, production values at the Crescent are high. Keith Harris’s detailed set with its old furniture and working hob (the smell of onions cooking in real time gets me salivating!) and the props (courtesy of Andrew Lowrie, Ben Pountney and Georgina Evans) show nothing has been overlooked, down to the graffiti on the covers of the exercise books waiting to be marked.
Beautifully played and well paced, this is an engaging, grown-up portrait of relationships as well as a heartfelt discourse on the state of our divided nation. Surely the divide is wider now, 22 years later – what a depressing thought! – pushing the relevance levels of Skylight through the roof (I couldn’t resist!).
Jacob Williams as Edward (Photo: Hannah Kelly)
Leave a comment | tags: Alice Kennedy, Andrew Lowrie, Ben Pountney, Crescent Theatre, David Hare, Georgina Evans, Graeme Braidwood, Jacob Williams, Keith Harris, review, Ron Barber Studio, Skylight | posted in Theatre Review