A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Propeller at the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield. 2-2-14


Puck and the fairies. Production photograph by Dominic Clemence.

The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear!

Each time that I have seen A Midsummer Night’s Dream I have been enchanted by it. I have been lucky enough to see only good productions, and one great one by Ninagawa’s company, which obviously helps, but whenever it is performed it remains a beautiful, magical play with wonderful poetry and great comedy which still works after four hundred years. You come away feeling better about the world and yourself after seeing it. All is well…….. and even if it isn’t, as Puck says in the epilogue, it was only a dream. Nothing is going to harm you.

Propeller’s production of the Dream has been described as “touched by genius”, not something that you hear often in reviews, and it has travelled all over the world. It is a play which fits them like a glove. They are my kind of theatre company, all male, daring, innovative and charming with a strong understanding of Shakespeare’s writing underpinning everything that they do. Like my heroes from back in the nineteen eighties, the English Shakespeare Company, they are not to everybody’s taste, but they are justly acclaimed and much-loved by their large audiences.

Creating stage magic is a lot more difficult than it looks. It requires pinpoint accuracy and confidence and the company work together beautifully to create another world. The fairies are capricious, androgynous beings who also have a wicked sense of fun. You wouldn’t trust them. The forest is their world and they are in control of anyone who strays within its boundaries. Mortals are fools and fair game, to be played with for a while so long as nobody is permanently harmed. Pain is never final. Their magic is real but only a plaything of the night. Puck is quite beautifully played by Joseph Chance. He draws us in, creating a real rapport with the audience, his joyous movement and playfulness hiding something deliciously dangerous. The quartet of lovers, played by Arthur Wilson, Richard Pepper, Dan Wheeler and Matthew McPherson were both heartfelt and hilarious and their fight scene resulted in the kind of applause that many a play doesn’t get at the curtain call. James Tucker and Daryl Brockis were both regal and unsettling as Titania and Oberon, you would not cross them. The mechanicals made the most of what is a surefire piece of comedy, maybe the only Shakespearean comedy scene which still works in exactly the same way as it did for its first audiences. I particularly liked Matthew McPherson as Snug- he was so not a lion. Raar! Having said all this the great joy of Propeller is the way that they work together as a company, particularly when it comes to movement.

Edward Hall’s direction was faultless. He knows both the play and his company so well that he can take risks and ask a tremendous amount of them both while remaining true to its spirit and deliver something which is fresh and surprising that doesn’t put a foot wrong. The set by Michael Pavelka is simple and beautiful, loose knit pale fabric drapes and a high, slim balcony made from a collection of various white-painted chairs which is reached by step ladders on either side of the stage and hidden side entrances upstage. It is another world made from pale whites, creams and greys.

I really loved this. We are lucky to have this kind of classical theatre company which takes the golden theatre age of our country and remakes it with such joy and understanding, allowing it to stay alive for us now.


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