“A merrier hour was never wasted there”
Tucked away down the narrowest of alleyways on Tooting High Street is one of the most boisterous Shakespearean adaptations you could hope for, full of your mom jokes, nipple tweaks, disco dancing, handcuffs and Googlemaps. Tooting Arts Club’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, performed here by a most hard-working ensemble of 8, is also full of great humour and accessible warmth, director Bill Buckhurst modernising and revitalising this lightest of comedies into something quirkily adorable.
Buckhurst has made some great choices. Having the quartet of lovers as teenage schoolkids makes good sense of their headlong rush into the forest and the fierce intensity of their burning loins, and making the fairies a bunch of slightly past-it club kids having a bad comedown and merely toying with the intruders into their domain is inspired. Titania’s blissed-out idolatry of Bottom suddenly becomes recognisable as any bad choice one might have made on the dancefloor; Puck’s hyperactive 1000 watt personality just like ‘that guy’ you meet and find impossible to shake off.
And it is under the enchantment that the production delivers its finest moment, in one of the funniest versions of the lovers’ fight that you could ever hope to see. The petty squabbling between Waleed Akhtar’s Lysander and Declan Perring’s Demetrius over Racheal Ofori’s mystified Helena is a joy to behold, but it is with the introduction of the fiercely scrapping Hermia, Kathryn Perkins with a delightful lack of abandon, that elevates it into an excellent piece of physical comedy.
The ducal court scenes don’t have quite the same effect, not quite fitting into this interpretation so easily, Hippolyta and Theseus’ relationship is frustratingly vague, but the Rude Mechanicals are huge amounts of fun. Waleed Elgadi (also Theseus and Oberon) is best as Peter Quince, a divine if precious director, Christopher Knott’s Bottom is a bumptious delight and if the performance of Pyramus and Thisbe isn’t quite as funny as one might hope, it is only because the prologue that comes before is simply hilarious.
There are rough edges to be sure: there’s never quite enough sense of magic about the whole affair, the verse-speaking sometimes missing the poetic depth of the language, the limitations of double and triple casting necessitating short cuts, but there’s no mistaking that this is a delightfully homespun take on the Dream which revels in its raucous yet always charming interpretation. Take another layer to wrap up warm and get thee to Tooting.