Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre York – until Sunday 2nd September 2018.
Reviewed by Michelle Richardson
The theatre is Europe’s first ever pop up Shakespearean theatre, though there have been a few worldwide. Set within a Shakespearean village, offering good old Yorkshire food and drink, it is only open until 2nd September and has taken over part of the historic Clifford’s Tower car park.
The theatre itself is amazing, from the outside with it’s angular construction, to inside with scaffolding all around, which doesn’t look out of place. Seats are staggered around a pit, where you can buy “groundling” tickets for only £12.50, and then an impressive wooden stage with large double doors in the centre, a balcony above, two staircases each side with entrances beneath, allowing the actors to come and go. Musicians, sat even higher, in the gods.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Juliet Forster, Associate Director of York Theatre Royal, is the second of the four Shakespearean shows that I will be seeing, and the one I was most looking forward to seeing, after previously catching a couple of adaptations of this bizarre comedy. The cast were the same as Macbeth, the four Shakespearean plays have two lots of casts, each performing in two plays. This must be a challenge having to switch between the two shows, in this case I had seen Macbeth the previous evening and saw this show the following afternoon, not a lot of respite.
On a midsummer’s night Hermia and her lover Lysander flee from Athens and Demetrius – the man Hermia’s father favours as a son-in-law. Demetrius follows, pursued by Helena who loves him in spite of being spurned in favour of Hermia. On the same night Bottom and his friends leave Athens to find somewhere quiet to rehearse their play which is to be performed at the wedding feast of Duke Theseus. Drawn into the woods they enter a world of magic, mystery and wonder.
For this production the roles of the King and Queen of the fairies were gender reversed, Anthony Bunsee playing Titania, the Queen, and Amanda Ryan Oberon, the King. It made no difference at all to the characters and in fact provided a comic turn in Titania’s interaction with Bottom later on in the show. With Puck, an energetic Clare Corbett, and the fairies whizzing around the stage, we are treated to an athletic and sometimes acrobatic display, with ropes and ribbons, as well as utilising the scaffolding in the seated area. The costumes of the fairies were quite devilish, looking like impish goats is the best I can describe. The fairies were superb, the mannerisms, postures and movements were wonderful to watch, especially Gareth Aled, who was compelling to watch, just like little devil.
As the story spun it was a joy to watch Hermia, Amy Lennox, becoming more deranged and dishevelled, running away Lysander, whilst being chased by Demetruis, Mark Holgate, who in turn is being pursued by the desperate Helena, Olivia Onyehara. The four actors interact well together and, in the end, you can’t help having a lovestruck struck smile on your face when all comes right.
The biggest draw of the show though must really go to Paul Hawkyard as Bottom. He is a mountain of a man who preens his way through the role, imitating valiant poses, wanting to dominate the play that him and his friends are rehearsing. Donning a donkey head when he is enchanted by Puck, we are treated to several donkey noises during his dialogue, creating much merriment within the audience. His interaction with Titania was hilarious, maybe enhanced by us knowing that Titania was being played by a man. The play ends with Bottom and friends performing their play for the wedding, and of course Bottom tries to takeover. This provided the biggest laugh of all, mostly because of the wall, played by Robin Simpson. Rina Mahoney as Quince, the playwright of their play, was also very engaging and funny to watch.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is really quite bizarre, but it works and at times is truly funny. This is certainly the more user friendly of the Shakespearean plays I have seen and maybe a good opener for anyone wanting to see if they like his plays. With a strong cast this is surely worth your time.