“Our community productions are always a highlight of the year”, say Chris Stafford, Chief Executive, and Nikolai Foster, Artistic Director of Curve Theatre, in their joint programme notes for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Running until August 20th, Great Central took the opportunity to test out this supposition on the press night for the enduring Shakespearean classic about magic, love and identity.
“To present this story I choose to create a Mythpunk world, giving classic folklore a post-modern twist and a strong feminist attitude”, notes Nick Winston, the highly experienced Director of this show. His vision, bought to life by a fine technical team which includes, on video design, Leicester’s own artist-led organisation, Metro-Boulot-Dodo, is precise and fully realised as the play proceeds with pace.
The story, multi-layered and yet simple enough to follow, tells of four young lovers finding themselves whilst losing their identity in a fantastical forest full of fairies and sprinkled with magical dust. Alongside this, a group of mates rehearse a play to potentially be performed at the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta.
Some might suggest that Shakespeare is not for them – and whilst the language might sometimes seem archaic and flighty, it’s worthwhile digging beneath your fears and allowing the magic and beauty of this particular text to wash over you. In the hands of local performers, who appear to feel these words every ounce as much as professional troupes, you can’t help but suspend belief and throw yourself right on in.
Comedy is central and nowhere is it more visible than in Alexander Clifford’s portrayal of Bottom. A natural stand-up, he prances around the stage with cheeky yet likeable aplomb. His comic timing and physicality, perfected for laughs, really comes into its own when Bottom is transformed into an ass, a donkey that farts and neighs whilst attracting the amorous advances of the spellbound fairy queen, Titania (Demi Hylands).
Nick Winston’s ambition to give this production a ‘strong feminist attitude’ can be assessed in the dynamic performances set down not just from Hylands but also from Megan Marston as Hermia and Lauren Jones as Helena. They all solidly impress as they weave their way through the gamut of love’s emotional force. Their suitors, Lysander (Chris Brookes), Demetrius (Harvey Thorpe) and indeed Oberon, the fairy king (Simon Butler) all play their roles with believable panache and stylish swagger. When Lysander and Demetrius fight for the hand of Helena, they do so in a slapstick manner which shows off their own comedic ability.
To highlight individual performances should in no way take away from the fact that this is very much a community production. With a cast of sixty, you do get some very modern moments that Shakespeare could not have possibly imagined when he initially wrote this piece. Raps, modern dances and songs might have the purists aghast but, to my mind, it all simply helps in the aim of introducing this magical mystery to a new generation.
“Having seen the audition application online, a performing spark reignited in me to apply”, comments Kelly Clarke, an elf in this production. Curve have ambitions to be central within Leicester and Leicestershire’s theatrical community and in this most professional of productions, they’ve achieved exactly that. Judging by the smiling faces I saw and positive comments I heard on leaving the theatre, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is certainly vying for the ‘highlight of the year’ accolade.