“The summer still doth tend upon my state”
The Malachites have more usually been found at St Leonard’s Church in their quest to “reconnect Shakespeare with Shoreditch in the public consciousness” but this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream sees them skip down the road to the tented rooftop of a venue which sits on the site where the Curtain Theatre once stood more than 400 years ago. And more significantly, it sees this young company taking a much more inventive approach to the Bard’s work – there can’t have been too many other female Bottoms, gender-swapped Oberons and Titanias or such explicit references to a 1909 silent film version of the play.
Benjamin Blyth’s production is cleverly done indeed. Projected snippets of that film play out above us – one brilliant scene sees the Rude Mechanicals mime along silently as their roles are given out by Peter Quince – and there’s something rather magical about seeing, even if only briefly, an interpretation of this same story that is over a century old. Blyth is also unafraid to contrast this with the new and novel though – having the Fairy King and Queen swap bodies in some magical mishap is further exploited when we meet our female Bottom, the tangled sexual dynamics of these mischievous spirits cast in a fresh light.
For there does feel something more manipulative about fairyland here. There’s no doubting that Blyth’s Titania is a sexual predator keen to experiment with her new form by entrapping Bottom in her bower and the magic with which Danielle Larose’s Oberon toys with the lovers is one of huge potency, its power like a drug that renders Lysander and Demetrius near-helpless. Throw in a petulant Puck (a brilliantly bedraggled Luke Gray) and a much more hands-on approach guiding the amorous antics and the Athenian quartet seem little more than playthings.
They do have fun though, Luke Shepherd’s randy Lysander is a particular standout, and there’s always great interest in how Blyth’s Titania and Larose’s Oberon subtly shift the emphases of these well-known characters. With music composed by the company adding a gorgeous extra layer and a final energetic burst through Pyramus and Thisbe rounding off the evening in style (although I wish we wouldn’t have had to move – Puck’s final lines were lost in the melee to move there and back again) this was a dream of a Dream.