“Midsummer’s Nights Dream meets Fight Club” may be one of the more intriguing tag lines I have come across. Intriguing is probably an appropriate word for the whole play.
This play was very classic Shakespeare, but with a heavy dose of progression. There were many elements of the much loved Shakespeare, from the classic technique of keeping characters silent and static on stage whilst events unfold around them, to the standard Shakespearian English with lexis such as “ye” and “thee” and of course, iambic pentameter. The polyamorous and homosexual relationship at the heart of the play between Pirithous, Hippolyta and Thesus, incorporated to shake up an old play. The underlying sexual tones ran throughout, between characters, kept secret by those longing for others and explicitly addressed in a grotesque Morris dance featuring phallic shaped horses. I feel this wasn’t necessary and an distasteful choice made by Blanche McIntyre. This brings it right up to date, yet a little muddled with some characters wearing brass breast plates and others in jeans and Pat Butcher t-shirts. It made for a slightly confusing mix, but it was one that kept you on your toes.
There were certain actors that carried through the relationships between the cast, these shone out and I fell in love with them much more than all the others. Emilia, in particular, the love interest who is passed from cousin to cousin, both of which insist they are in love with her, finds herself more confused than ever after lusting after her lady in waiting. The other strong female lead was the jailers daughter who becomes completely infatuated with one of the cousins, Palamon, sending herself into a mad downward spiral. These two actresses both stood out to me as despite their monologues being few and far apart and dialogue with other characters very occasional, their connection with the audience out did the rest of the cast.
Both Palamon and his cousin were the axis the story revolved around, with everything from looks and build to characteristic and idiolect in common. The danger lies in their conflicting love for Emilia. They quickly go from friend “We are on another’s wife” to foe “I saw her first, hands off!” Their use of space and levels allowed for hilariously choreographed scenes when they were inprisoned and when their disagreement came to a head in a comedic dual.
Palamon stole my heart, his expression and way of speaking was more straight forward and simpler yet the layers of pace, tone and intonation had clearly been thought through. It allowed me to get lost within his speech and believe every word he said, gestures reinforcing his words along the way. He didn’t need to do the classic shouty Shakespeare we assume happens in every play, I was convinced he knew what he was saying and then automatically knew what he meant with each word.
The set was bare but essential, with floor to ceiling wires holding mesh metal panels for the actors to climb and use as jail walls. The staging was appropriate with entrances and exits from trap doors, stairs up from the back of the stage, from aisles leading into the shallow audience. All this movement kept what could have been a static play, pleasantly lively and upbeat.
Something I observed as the play went on is how you can slowly tune into the language used. For example, at the start a conversation is had about how three wives wanted the correct burial rituals for their husbands, I for one found it very tricky to follow what was happening in the scene. Later on, I could recite the storyline of the play no problem, perhaps cause I was more invested in the characters or because I was used to the language. I am convinced that the long rambling monologues in the first scene slowly straightened themselves out and shortened in length, or maybe I just was tuned in.
Seeing the play was a lovely way to celebrate end of a year commemorating 400 of Shakespeare. The abstract themes, were a little overwhelming for such a classic storyline, but I think the execution was perfect creating an interesting and unique play.