A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Play For the Nation

Theatre, Shakespeare
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

This fun RSC production's high concept doesn't quite translate to the stage

IF Shakespeare’s fairy-filled romp ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is rarely out of favour, it’s having a particularly ‘big’ year in 2016: so far, I count five major revivals in London. 

What makes this one from the RSC different is the unusual casting. Subtitled ‘A Play for the Nation’, Erica Whyman’s production has been touring the country, pairing up with a different amateur dramatics company at each stop to play the bumbling Mechanicals. 

It’s a really nice idea, the RSC using its enormous clout to put the spotlight on some of the unsung heroes of the theatre world. The thing is, though, it doesn’t come across in any meaningful way when you watch it. I saw the show in Stratford-upon-Avon with home town heroes Bearpit Theatre playing Bottom and the gang – and they were totally up to the level of the pros around them. Which is problematic: when they fit so seamlessly into the production, the fact that they’re nominally amateurs doesn’t add much (and casting them as the Mechanicals, themselves an am-dram company, risks seeming a bit patronising). 

Possibly I’m overthinking this. It’s the RSC doing ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. It’s good. Whyman’s music-hall-styled production feels a bit safe next to the Globe’s concurrently running ‘Dream’, but it’s still top-drawer stuff, with Lucy Ellinson a masterstroke of casting as a fey, Charlie Chaplin-esque Puck. And three cheers for the Londoners who’ll be playing The Mechanicals at the Barbican. Founded in 1932, Tower Theatre is the oldest am-dram company in the country and still stages up to 18 shows a year. They deserve this turn in the limelight.

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