Review - A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Attic Theatre in Stratford
By Peter Buckroyd
Summer wouldn’t be summer without a good production of one of Shakespeare’s best known plays and SE Company’s at the Attic Theatre with a predominantly young cast fits the bill perfectly. Directed by Elliott Wallis it is full of ideas, mostly well-grounded in textual detail but creating something enjoyable and refreshing for those who know the play as well as something exciting for those who don’t know it.
Wallis doesn’t shy away from the play’s dark edges. The opening scene, for example, when Aegeus demands punishment for his daughter Hermia not being prepared to marry the person he wants her to is quite chilling in its portrayal of parental neglect and Wallis makes clear that although Theseus is announcing his forthcoming marriage it is to Hippolyta, his war trophy for his defeat of the Amazons in battle.
Not surprisingly Hippolyta is not best pleased, appearing between palace guards, handcuffed and gagged.
And Puck, often depicted as a playful mischievous sprite is heavily tattooed, dressed in black. He is a sinister bacchanalian animalistic creature, physically athletically imposing, with a ghastly laugh permeating his speech, sometimes rather frighteningly and always grotesque.
Black is the dominant motif of the opening and of most of the play. The audience enters into Theseus’s court in semi-darkness. Theseus has gothic black eyeliner. There are lots of suggestions of rather dangerous s and m behaviour.
Wallis doubles Theseus and Hippolyta with Oberon and Titania whose sinister manipulation is appropriate in darkness. The lovers also play the mechanicals. Everyone seems to be out of place in a world where they can’t function logically and all are subject to malevolent manipulation.
Wallis leaves us a few puzzles. The prisoner Hippolyta transforms into a loving and even doting prospective wife in Act V with no explanation at all.
The only answer to this, and to the confusions experienced by the lovers is that transformations in life happen randomly, without explanation. It is a serious and coherent interpretation of the play.
What about performances? There were moments in the early performance which I saw when it was a bit OTT physically and vocally, with sometimes a bit too much energy and a bit too much shouting.
But you won’t see a more energetic and scary Puck than Lucas Albon’s and you won’t come across a more splendid modern interpretation of Hippolyta than Fiona Munro’s.
Wallis decided to cast Lysander as Lysandra but interestingly Abigail Drennan makes sure that this is no more confusing than the original heterosexual pairings.
Ciara Lane’s Helena is excellent both physically and vocally.
The mechanicals are fun. You won’t see a performance of the play within the play, Pyramus and Thisbe like this. I certainly haven’t. Suffice it to say that as well as being a director, Elliott Wallis is a musician and composer.
The whole of Act V is imaginative and theatrical. Piers MacKenzie does some extraordinary things both as the narcissistic creep Lysander and as Thisbe.
All the fairies are conflated into one and Izzy Hulme‘s fairy has a strange relationship with Puck. This skilled actor is unrecognisable when she appears at the end as Philostrate.
It runs until 4th September.