‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ review
Time Out says
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Enjoyable – if conservative – immersive take on Shakespeare’s comedy, in the basement of Ally Pally
In 1936, the new BBC Television Service broadcast its first transmissions from a converted wing in Alexandra Palace. Immersive theatre specialists Rift’s new take on ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ – a site-specific production in the cavernous, pebble-strewn basements of Ally Pally – vaguely references this.
Hilary McCool’s costumes are 1930s-inspired, and the play begins as if being filmed by the BBC. Hermia’s father has become her agent. A hand-held camera represents the flower ‘love-in-idleness’, which causes infatuation. And the dual screens at either end of the gallery, which show the faces of the performers as the magic takes hold, are a clever touch that references the mirroring and doubling in the play. It’s nice, though it feels like it could have been pushed further.
Audiences are promised a rare chance to explore the rarely-opened, atmospherically-battered basements, but in total we enter three rooms, and most of the play is watched sitting on upturned buckets in a single-vaulted gallery. The moody dark, the mysterious brick alcoves and the minimalist fairy lights combine to make the sort of bosky, twilit dankness that one might find in an ancient Athenian forest stuffed with fairies. Although, what it brings to the play – or changes within it – is negligible.
Still, as an adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies, it’s game and sparky. Phoebe Naughton is particularly good as a brittle, highly-strung Helena, pinch-lipped with paranoid fury when she suspects the lovesick Lysander (Ben Teare) and Demetrius (Sam Duncane) are making fun of her. She finds a foil in Dewi Sarginson’s assertive Hermia. Their fight scene, which sees them charging like wounded bulls at one another across the gallery, hilariously shows the two suitors up as foppish, nervous men barely able to match them.
Henry Maynard’s Bottom is hysterically funny, a bristling blimp oozing am-dram self-importance. He has a natural rapport with the audience, particularly in the more interactive scenes, and elicits the deepest belly laughs.
Rift’s production is a charming curiosity, but for audiences awed by such ambitious projects as their overnight performance of 'Macbeth' in the Balfron Tower, this will taste a little insipid.