I must admit to stifling a bit of an inner sigh when I saw that A Midsummer Night’s Dream was this autumn’s big Shakespeare production at the Crucible. Not that there’s anything wrong with it – it’s one of Shakespeare’s most accessible comedies, and it was pretty much my introduction to the Bard when I was younger, as my sister was cast in the school production and I helped her learn her lines.
So although it’s a play I have a lot of affection for, the question remains: do we really need yet another version of A Midsummer Night Dream, or has it been done to death? Much Ado is arguably funnier while Manchester’s Royal Exchange staged a brilliant version of As You Like It (starring a pre-fame Cush Jumbo) a few years ago. So there are other Shakespeare comedy plays out there.
Robert Hastie, the Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres and the man at the helm of this new production, has solved that problem by making this A Midsummer Nights Dream like you’ve never seen before. It’s more like a Midsummer Nights Fever Dream to be honest – and as the final 20 minutes prove, Hastie’s obviously decided that the best route to take is the gloriously silly one. And, to be fair, it works really well.
The main selling point of this version of Midsummer Nights Dream seems to be that the music is written by Dan Gillespie Sells, the lead singer of The Feeling who wrote the songs for the staggeringly successful Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. This is a very different sort of soundtrack though – Sells hasn’t turned Shakespeare into a musical, but his songs complement the play. There’s nothing as catchy as on the Jamie soundtrack, but it’s more proof that Sells has a lucrative second career lined up if The Feeling ever call it quits.
Music still plays a central role here though – the grand piano starts in the centre of the stage, and almost becomes a character in itself (responsible for, amongst other things, a breathtakingly inventive entrance for Puck). Yet it’s the cast that is really responsible for the success of this revival: one of Britain’s finest comic actors, Daniel Rigby, is a brilliant Bottom, really throwing himself into the overbearing and pompous wannabe actor. His donkey’s head has a oddly steampunk air to it, one of many delightful touches by designer Chiara Stephenson.
The pacing in the first half falls a bit flat, and nothing really comes close to touching the magnificent comic heights of the scene where the casting of Pyramus and Thisbē is taking place. Yet the second half moves up a notch (Hastie has wisely made a fair bit of editing to the script) before the insane last 20 minutes where the stage is transformed into a glam-rock tribute complete with Lycra, glitter cannons and impossibly silly dance routines.
Hastie’s Midsummer Night’s Dream is probably not one for the Shakespeare purists (indeed, there’ll no doubt be a fair few people who will be left completely cold by the climatic glam rock opera), but it’s a lot of fun and embraces its general silliness.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is playing at the Crucible until October 20th. Visit Sheffield Theatres for tickets.