Sussex Playwrights Reviews: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Brighton Shakespeare Company

Brighton Open Air Theatre August 2-6 2017

This is a young Brighton company with a wealth of experience and talent, born in 2015 with productions of The Merry Wives of Windsor, Much Ado About Nothing and a Sussex church tour of Macbeth to its credit.

The company, led by The Treason Show’s Mark Brailsford, now presents a charming and energetic Dream with bags of personality, transported from Athens to Albion, with Elizabethan aristos, Albion-supporting mechanicals and 1920s swing dancing party fairies.

As the court prepares for the wedding of Duke Theseus and Queen Hippolyte, young lovers escape a father’s wrath, a bunch of tradesmen rehearse a play to entertain the party – and the fairies are all set to interfere.

After the disappointment of a rained-off first night a full BOAT audience came prepared with cushions, blankets and waterproof covers just in case, quite a few picnics and a great sense of humour.

Highlights include some clever doubling, especially with Jack Kristiansen’s joyously arrogant screwup Puck and fastidiously appalled Philostrate, Jules Craig’s sweet Snout and dangerously androgynous dom Mustardseed, and Sarah Mann’s slinky flapper Cobweb and pernickety old Peter Quince. Julian Parkin has the record, as Egeus, Peaseblossom and a heartrending Flute.

Joshua Crisp and Amy Sutton’s hi-octane Lysander and emotionally powerful Hermia, and the athletic fighting between the four enchanted lovers, with Stewart Barham as an exasperated Demetrius and Sophie Flack’s Helena on the edge of despair had the audience riveted.

Producer/director Mark Brailsford is huge fun as lovable pompous ass Bottom, with a commanding Duncan Drury as Theseus/Oberon and Kerren Garner a flirtatious jazz-age Fairy Queen Titania and haughty Hippolyte.

There are some lovely visual moments; the twinkly Brighton Lindy Hoppers as dancing fairies, and Puck’s gigantic shadow thrown against the surrounding trees in the last moments a reminder that these mercurial beings could be light or dark, tiny or immense, just as they fancied.

Just a few notes; there is some variation in vocal presence and sometimes voices are lost against the wind in the trees and when actors turn to speak upstage (a classic open air theatre hazard), and I’d have liked to have seen Bottom’s transformation – it felt a bit unclear just what had happened offstage, and how.

This is a great rollicking fun production of one of the best known of all plays, with lots of cheeky visual gags and little blink-and-you’ll-miss-it touches – Puck’s malfunctioning magic hand, Helena’s boot sniff, Lysander’s bum scratch and an accidental boy snog – but suitable for children? There were quite a few in the audience, highly entertained by the naughty bits, so you decide. Picnics and drinks welcome – beware marauding fairies, but then they’ve always demanded their share, in Albion.

On at BOAT until August 6th and at Lewes Castle August 11th and 12th.

Brighton Shakespeare Company:

Philippa Hammond

Sussex Playwrights