NODA Review - A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
This was the Hippodrome's first brush with the Bard in over a century, so there was a heavy weight of expectation resting on the shoulders of the ensemble to come up trumps with their version of this popular play. It was also nice to have a touch of midsummer warmth brought to a chilly December evening with this imaginative production which transported Shakespeare's band of fairies and rude mechanicals from ancient Athens to the swinging 'sixties. In what proved to be a very interesting interpretation, the merry band of players at the Hippodrome proved to be as reliably assured as ever and I feel sure it won't be the last we see of Shakespeare in Todmorden. With some imaginative music choices added into the production and an interesting set helping to create the dreamlike atmosphere of the forest setting, this was a production which had many interesting things to say and which had been thoughtfully considered.
Opening with a rather peculiar 'dance off' between Theseus and Hippolyta, the gathering of potentially mis-matched lovers (Demetrius, Hermia, Lysander and Helena) was introduced before we ventured off into the woods. There was a very intelligent use of doubling-up in the cast with a particularly strong performance from Anthony Peter as both Theseus and Oberon, suggesting the the similarly rocky relationship at play between both characters and their respective spouses.
Interestingly, the fairies doubled up as a female gang of rude mechanicals - including Emma Stafford as a lady Bottom - which also worked well and Andy Fraser doubled as Egeus and Peter Quince, giving two very different performances, showing his versatility. Another very strong performance came from young Paul Robinson - again doubling as Philostrate and Puck - who stood out with a very engaging interpretation of Oberon's mischievous sprite. The decision to use the cast in multiple roles may have risen out of necessity but the resulting effect was a very intelligent exploration of the thematic connections between the characters. James Claxton really had the measure of the piece as Lysander; his performance was, I'd say, the strongest of the evening. There was an unfortunate tendency with a few performers to give the script the kid glove treatment and be slightly overawed by the weight of Shakespearean expectation, leading to a slightly mannered and over-enunciated performance or two. James understood the need to get the balance just right: true this was a Shakespeare play but the individual character must be allowed to breathe and exist rather than being merely a walking mouthpiece for 'important' speeches. Having said that however, there really wasn't a weak performance from anyone in the cast and the play was given a very confident airing indeed.
The scenery was particularly effective in suggesting the play's misty mystery and the costumes were similarly very well chosen to reflect the 1960s setting. Again, this 'swinging sixties' setting was a decision which worked in the play's favour rather than against it and helped to bring the narrative to life rather than to cloud it in confusion: this was a good choice which again, helped to bolster the thematic undercurrents rather than negate them. Brief musical interludes were well chosen and helped to reinforce the narrative and technically speaking, the show ran very smoothly across the board.
This was an engaging, funny and thoughtful production of a classic play which demonstrated the best of the talents from the always reliable team at the Hippodrome. Perhaps the next production of Shakespeare in Todmorden won't be as long in coming as this one?! My thanks to everyone at the Hippodrome for an interesting evening's entertainment.