A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Tobacco Factory, Bristol

ANYONE who has had to deal with rebellious teenagers will tell you that there comes a time when they become so determined to be different from the previous generations that their actions become predictable.

Having given fair notice of his intentions in the programme notes, director Mike Tweddle, in his anxiety to present “a true theatrical adventure”, goes for one fashionable theatrical trend after another, showing scant respect for Shakespeare’s original concept or the poetry within the text. His excuse for doing this is that he believes that, above all else, A Mid­summer Night’s Dream is a play about the power of Imagin­a­tion. A play, he says, that explores the (sometimes frightening) truth and transformation we can achieve when we escape the confines of our everyday and attend to our wildest dreams.

Having set out his stall, Mike Tweddle does not hold back for a second. Dialogue is sometimes attacked at such a frenetic pace that not only the poetry but the meaning is lost, until you become attuned to the speaker’s tone of voice. The setting, sometime in the near future, gives designer Anna Reid and Ruby Maxim (costumes) a free hand to go down the well trodden paths of introducing grotty furnishings, including an old enamel bath for Titania’s bower,  and costumes ranging from an elegant  formal evening gown, worn with arrogant poise by Charleen Qwaye as Hippolyta, to a frightening mix of discarded charity shop garments in the role of Titania.

At present it appears when presenting a classic play to have become obligatory that some of the characters undergo a gender change. Here it happens to two pairs of lovers,  Lysander and Demetrius, Helena and Hermia. Lysander becomes Lysanda and Helena turns into Helenus, leaving us at the end with two same-sex couples, and all done to “make more resonant their quest for love and to be loved by whoever they chose”.

It is a point well made, but in its pursuit, not enough attention has been paid to the joyous fun this foursome can create. Not, I hasten to add, for the sake of trying – Paksie Vernon’s Hermia covers almost every yard of the stage, at speed, looking for laughs.

The more riotous  humour generated by the rude mechanicals of Athens led by Heather Williams, (another gender change as Bottom) is also a little underpowered. Their playing of the tedious tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe needed more imaginative choreography in its mime  to garner all the comedy on offer in this wonderfully-written  scene.

Kim Heron was given fewer chances than is often the case to steal scenes as Puck, but taking advantage of music, of which she was the co-composer, she quietly captured via pure vocal tones  the ethereal quality of this mischievous spirit. These were one of many moments to enjoy in a production that takes chances in order to present the play in a new way, making it (they trust)  more palatable to a modern audience.


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