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A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Susan Elkin reviews)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
William Shakespeare. In association with Kneehigh and abridged by Kate Kennedy
society/company: National Youth Theatre of Great Britain
performance date: 10 Dec 2019
venue: Criterion Theatre, 218-223 Piccadilly, St. James’s, London W1V 9LB

Photos: Helen Murray

Well, you can always rely on NYT Rep Company to come up with something gloriously ‘other’. In the hands of Kate Kennedy, whose script brings the play down to ninety minutes without interval, and director Matt Harrison, who clearly thinks a long way outside the box, this is definitely a Dream for late 2019.

We’re in a northern seaside town – Whitby, maybe – run by a councillor (Theseus) entering into a chilly coalition with a very disdainful Hypolita in order to run the place. Theseus’s daughter Hermia (yes, that’s right) is refusing to make the alliance he wants … and we’re off. Sort of. It won’t appeal to die-hard traditionalists but I loved it.

An ice-cream stall which can be turned to provide a red leather banquette reminiscent of a seaside coffee bar and a stage full of anchored helium balloons gently bobbing ten feet up (designer Camilla Clarke) create a lot of atmosphere – like the neon patterned lights on the back wall.

It’s a stroke of narrative genius to make Helena a young man because it adds another whole layer of nuanced humour to what is already probably Shakespeare’s funniest play – as well as embracing our own era of celebrated diversity. Lysander (Billy Hinchcliff – fine actor) is, in this version, evidently unsure which way he bats so the drugged infatuation in the wood is quite something

Some of these young actors – and this is the third show I’ve seem them in as they complete their repertory season – are seriously talented and I’m certain we shall see a lot more of them. Jemima Mayala, as Bottom, beams, overacts, reacts, struts, simpers and commands the stage for every second she’s on it. Her timing is spot on. It’s an utterly delightful performance.

Sarah Lussack is excellent as Peter Quince trying to control her company of dreadful actors. She uses a rather good crisp manner – her Quince probably teaches drama in the local comp. I also loved Jadie Rose Hobson’s gritty Titania and the cool distance that Alice Franziska brings to Hypolita. Ella Dacres creates a lovely bespectacled, long suffering but assertive Puck, neatly clad in red check jacket.

This A Midsummer Night’s Dream is also an ensemble piece involving most of the company in ‘choral’ moments including the Mechanicals’ burgomask and a sprightly hip-hop “jig” at the end. The way in which the company works together so effectively is very much a part of what makes this show memorable.

National Youth Theatre Rep Company is a nine-month commitment for sixteen NYT auditioned members aged 18-25. It is presented as an alternative drama school and there’s bursary support. I hope lots of agents and casting directors see this show because these young actors deserve to be snapped up.

First published by Sardines:
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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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