The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted
by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others
by streaming new shows. And we take the opportunity to explore
other vintage productions preserved online. Until things return to
normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.
Midsummer Night's Dream
Lord Chamberlain's Men and YouTube January 2022
The Lord Chamberlain's Men are a London-based all-male touring company specialising in outdoor performances of Shakespeare. This polished recording was made of a live performance in their 2019 tour of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
It is crisp, clear, fast-moving and thoroughly entertaining, capturing all the play's comedy, romance and magic in an attractively modest and inventive way.
The cast of seven all double and redouble roles, the ease and cleverness of their quick changes inviting us into the fun of make-believe. That same evocation of the audience's imagination – essential to a play about fairies, magic spells and theatre itself – carries through the production.
The male actors playing female roles are instantly acceptable as real and believable (if not particularly pretty) women, without a hint of camp or exaggerated femininity, and the male characters who find themselves in love with one or another are never ridiculous for that.
Director Peter Stickney admirably resists any temptation to impose a vision or interpretation on the play, allowing its own virtues to carry it. He does guide some in the cast to finding fresh colours to their characters, the men playing women most successful in this.
Newcomers to the play – and the Dream is, of course, the ideal introduction to Shakespeare – might not notice, but those who know the play will find the small changes refreshing.
George Readshaw makes Helena a little spunkier than she is often played, which shifts the power balance so that Joshua Glenister's Hermia becomes the more pitiable of the two. Will de Renzy-Martin switches between a cool Hippolyta and an imperious Titania, perhaps missing the comic opportunities to make the fairy queen a little more sensual.
If James Camp and Alex Wilson have difficulty giving much individuality to the young swains Demetrius and Lysander, so do almost every other actors stuck in those thankless roles. Camp is more successful as a casual, take-life-as-it-comes Bottom, while Maximilian Marston finds an attractive balance between Oberon's dark and light sides.
Only James Keningale's rather lumpen and earthbound Puck is a disappointment, conveying too little of the sprite's energy and delight in confusion.
The comic moments are comic, the sweet moments are sweet, Pyramus And Thisbe is satisfyingly silly. And of course this may be the one play in all the world repertoire that most wants to be done outdoors, and when we suddenly realise at play's end that dusk has turned to night both in and outside the play, the effect is magical.
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