“We will make amends ere long”
After The Faction’s Romeo and Juliet that stretched out beyond the three hour mark, here’s a version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that is similarly lengthy – I’m really hoping this isn’t the emergence of a trend because it does no good to anyone in all honesty. Notions of textual fidelity are all well and good but they can also lack dramatic focus – the ever-evolving mutability of Shakespeare’s text is one of its key strengths and it is a mark of directorial nous to be able to harness that potential and deliver it onstage (and if it is going to be long, then it needs not to feel long).
But here, for every innovation that Nick Bagnall comes up with for his production at the Everyman in Liverpool – and there are many of them – there’s an overcooked scene that drags unbearably. It makes for an occasionally difficult piece of theatre but one that also has imaginatively exciting moments too. Ashley Martin-Davis’ design also embodies this conflict in its amorphous undefinability, no particular time or place evoked but rather a vaguely futuristic, dark carnival-esque atmosphere for an unfamiliar Athens and a strange forest of scattered white paper that is a great idea but not quite pulled off.
There’s little magic too, at least as we know it, with the fairies rather disturbingly dressed in all-black and feeling closer to ninjas than anything with an air of malevolence about them. Sharon Duncan-Brewster and Garry Cooper rise above the eeriness though to deliver a strong regal couple, their Titania and Oberon both compelling presences as Cynthia Erivo’s acrobatic Puck (soon to depart these shores for Broadway in The Color Purple) trapezes and dances her mischievous way through the tasks set by her fairy master to toy with the humans who invade their forest.
The youthful quartet of lovers never really hit the mark with Bagnall’s emphasis on the darker side of their characters skewing their actions. Matt Whitchurch makes Demetrius a convincing misogynist of a man but without much compensatory charm, likewise Emma Curtis’ Helena is almost sinister in her pursuit of such a one. Fortunately the Mechanicals exude a wonderful Scouse charisma from top to bottom, led by Dean Nolan’s indefatigable Bottom whose appearances are like a shot in the arm alongside James Fortune’s moodily suggestive score. A mixed bag but one worth investigating.