THERE are so many good ideas in Barry Matthews-Keel’s production of Shakespeare’s magical comedy a Midsummer Night’s Dream, on stage at the Studio Theatre in Ashley Road, Salisbury until 23rd July.
It starts in total darkness, and as the light comes up a silhouette begins a slow martial dance. We discover that she is Hippolyta, soon to marry the Athenian duke Theseus, and she is in stylish armour, making sense of how the Duke conquered her in battle and then in love.
Movement is a very very large element of this production, and since no choreographer is credited, I assume that Mr Matthews-Keel and his assistant director Rowena Greenaway were responsible for it.
Although some members of the audience seemed surprised by the story, it is one of Shakespeare’s best known and most frequently performed plays, with its parallel stories of the Athenian and the Fairy royal courts, a group of local artisans putting on a play, and one of them being turned into an ass.
The Shakespearean themes are of romantic love, jealousy and magic, and the play gives opportunities for all sorts of invention. Here the set was cleverly lit to enhance the fairy glade, but the central structure was not only versatile but a bit vertiginous, and slippery, for the cast.
The soundscape, with kora music for the fairies and impressive storm effects, all added to the atmosphere, and the costumes, especially the fairy garments, were a delight.
As always with the talented Studio Theatre company, there were excellent performances, notably by Stan Morris as Lysander, James Patterson as Oberon, Lorna Matthews-Keel as the newly created Lead Fairy, and Mark Honan as Bottom.
But sadly the rest of the cast were so keen on speaking the verse clearly that their delivery started slow and seemed to be governed by a rallentando direction. The constant use of dance movement slowed the speech still further.
And the artisan actors, described variously as “rude mechanicals” and “hempen homespuns” had no trace of country accents, though the Lion roared wonderfully.
There is so much to praise in the production, but it needs a heavy foot on the accelerator. Thankfully, there really is time to speed up.