A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM: CHICHESTER
- Venue: Minerva Theatre, Chichester
- Director: Sean Holmes
- Producer: Filter and Lyric Hammersmith
A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Sean Holmes has toured the UK and included a run at The Minerva, Chichester.
The town’s formidable dowagers must have been astonished when comedian Ed Gaughan, playing Quince, asked: “Have you all come here together on a nice big bus?
This was followed by an enquiry as to whether we might have got better value for money by staying at home on a Saturday evening and watching Rowan Atkinson in the film Johnny English Reborn.
My answer – and having travelled to Chichester at the last minute on a whim I had paid for my ticket – would have been an emphatic: ‘No. I’m getting better value here.’ I find Gaughan funnier than Atkinson and was generally charmed by this irreverent and self-aware production.
The central conceit is that the rude mechanicals are a band and the set is littered with amplifiers, microphones and cables. Gaughan is the band manager but starts proceedings with a topical stand-up comedy routine which he obviously varies for each venue. Thus, Athens is described as “like Brighton but minus the annoying media types though with more rioting and an unelected leader.” Gaughan then settles into a wonderful treatment of Quince with numerous ad libs which rely on suggestions from the audience and underline his abilities as a mimic.
However topical the treatment – Kate Middleton’s school fees somehow receive a mention – the production also has an acute sense of history to the point of mentioning the 1935 Hollywood version in which Jimmy Cagney played Bottom. At Chichester, Bottom is played by Fergus O’Donnell whose mode of entrance is a highpoint of the evening and ramps up the metatheatricality though any description of how he finds himself on stage would have to come with a spoiler warning.
There is fine support work from Oliver Dimsdale who doubles as Egeus and Puck, playing the latter in the style of a stagehand or roadie. But as Oberon, Jonathan Broadbent makes little impression despite being given some wonderful visual gags such as controlling the Demetrius-Lysander argument as if they were figures on his gaming console. Broadbent is not a natural comedian, does not produce a spontaneous gesture all evening and at times looks as though he would like to be anywhere but on the stage.
Occasionally Sean Holmes could push harder at the predominant theme that this is a musicians’ set and more good gags would have flowed. Even at 90 minutes the pace is occasionally funereal and the production teeters on the edge of being self-satisfied. The physical humour can be laboured and it was disappointing to see the many genuinely comic elements grind to a halt with a food fight.
This is a co-production between Filter and the Lyric Hammersmith which transfers to Hammersmith early in 2012. In general it teems with good ideas and deftly finds a balance between cheekiness and convention. I left the theatre significantly more cheerful than when I arrived. The piece will no doubt be tightened before the London transfer and should fare well.