A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Filter Theatre Company / Lyric Hammersmith production
Directed by Sean Holmes
The Theatre, Poole Lighthouse
9th November 2011
Filter say that the production can differ radically from night to night. I saw their version of Twelfth Night twice. The first time was at The Nuffield, Southampton in 2008, and I thought it lively, inventive, and a lot of fun, though the doubling-up of parts rendered bits of it incoherent, as was the whole to anyone who didn’t know the plot of Twelfth Night well. If you are going to have someone doubling as Viola and Sebastian, you need some simple visual differentiation clue. A hat perhaps? Otherwise, you’re as confused as the characters are supposed to be in the play. It was the usual Nuffield very small audience which made it hard work for the cast. I saw it again by mistake in 2010, It wasn’t that I hadn’t enjoyed the first, but it was billed so differently and so much time had passed, that I went to Bath expecting a different radical interpretation by a different company (I’d forgotten the name Filter), and found it near identical to the first time. I still laughed out loud right through.
I like “coarse Shakespeare” versions. I saw The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s Complete Works of William Shakespeare twice, with its cast of three. However, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is not especially reduced. The cast is twelve, so not much different from the Headlong production. It’s as lively as Twelfth Night, but the story works better this time. It’s completely clear, and the doubling up is only the obvious: Theseus / Oberon, and Hippolyta / Titania, plus Aegeus is doubled with Puck.
Filter add a further layer to the three layers in the play (Athens / The woods / The Mechanicals). No plot spoilers, but they take yet another step backwards, and it’s partly based on a Two Ronnies routine. The intro is a long stand up section (doubling as Peter Quince). He sets up that further level elaborately, but they abandon it after twenty minutes.
Like Mickey O’Donahughe’s Young Vic company twenty years ago, they excel at walking outside the play, then going back into the play and doing bits pretty straight and extremely well in straight terms too.
In recent productions I’ve complained of Puck’s being overshadowed. This restores a powerful Puck, and a powerful and funny Oberon-Puck double act, which benefits the play. They’re great watching what’s going on, stuffing themselves with sandwiches and Carlsberg from Hermia’s picnic hamper. Theseus / Oberon is Jonathan Broadbent, and Puck is Ferdy Roberts (who played Malvolio in Twelfth Night).
Hermia (Victoria Moseley) and Helena (Rebecca Scroggs) appeared to have bad colds, but they won through, even if Hermia had a hacking coughing fit in the wings early on.Then again, with Filter, you never know what’s part of the rehearsed play and what’s not. The lovers scene utilised the whole theatre, and had a hilarious short addition to Helena’s lines. It ends in a magnificent food fight involving the whole cast and audience.
Filter’s big thing is creating sound effects live on stage (as well as having the band) and as with Twelfth Night it was masterly. A highlight was Bottom’s realization that he’d become an ass, done entirely with sound effects and without any props or costume. Even so, it’s the funniest donkey appendage routine of all (played by Fergus O’Donnell). It wasn’t a good Pyramus and Thisbe play, but I’ve seen two phenomenal ones this year, and it would have been hard put to compete. Nice death though. The problem is that parts of the play are being “Pyramus and Thisbeed” throughout. Oberon is in a super hero costume with a silver O.
Oberon (Jonathan Broadbent)
Puck has a heavily tattooed arm and looks like a biker. The result is that the Pyramus and Thisbe play within a play doesn’t really have anywhere to go. They also played it straight to the audience as if we were Theseus, Hippolyta and the lovers watching them. The reactions of the courtly couples to the play are part of it. The surprising thing is throughout the whole evening, the observers of the action are a major part of the fun, commenting on the action. When Aegeus does his heavy speech at the beginning, Bottom watching at the back says, ‘That’s a bit harsh!’ So dumping the observers at the end (apart from the band) is an unusual choice.
Is it the Dream? I’d say 25% of the lines are outside the play “what Shakespeare wrote” (to quote Ernie Wise), and though it was a 100 minutes rather than the advertised 90 minutes, it means a lot of cutting. They retain the essence and I’d say it’s fair to simply call it a version of the Dream. It’s so different in concept that you can’t compare directly to the Headlong or RSC productions this year. Filter are carving out their own Shakesperean sub-genre, and long may it continue.
There were no production photos online until long after this review was done. They have been added. It’s wise. It’s all in modern dress, and photos would have given some of the game away at least.The free A4 programme says the cast may vary from night to night, and doesn’t say what they’re playing, hence a Google image search was needed to match them.
REVIEWS OF OTHER PRODUCTIONS OF “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on this blog:
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – BBC TV SCREEN version 2016