- Flora Gosling
Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream (Bard in the Botanics)
Why go to Glastonbury or Pride when you can go to Jennifer Dick’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream?
If you wanted to spend last weekend surrounded by sunshine, colour, music, and dancing, you had a few options. You could go to LGBTQ+ Pride, which was celebrated throughout the UK including in Glasgow (a city lucky enough to have not one but two Pride weekends during the summer). Or you could go to Glastonbury, and frolic in muddy fields to your favourite band with a crowd of millennials drenched in glitter and sweat. Or, you could watch A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a park. Now, sitting in the grassy surroundings of Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens, watching Shakespeare at the mercy of the weather for a run time of 2 hours and forty minutes (including interval) may not sound like the most FOMO-inducing event of the summer for everyone. But if ever there was a time to give classic theatre a go, for newcomers and seasoned theatre-goers alike, this would be it.
Director Jennifer Dick seeks to draw out the joy of the play, and that is exactly what she does. It is not overly conceptual, nor is it strenuously loyal, but it does seek to produce joy in its audience at every opportunity. Helping her bring the classic story of a confused love triangle, a fairy kingdom, and an amateur theatre company to life is designer Heather Grace Currie. The characters are dressed in colourful, hippyish festival garbs, and the set features a bright floral mural and pillars festooned with what looks like handmade crochet squares. The stage makes for an enriching sight.
Among Dick’s tweaks to the original play is gender-swapping a couple of the characters. Evie Mortimer plays Lysandra, turning her forbidden romance with Grace Lyons’ Hermia into a story not just about power and arranged marriage, but LGBTQ+ acceptance. Their chemistry is sparkling, and the slight change that the gender swap brings to the dynamic is never overbearing on the other plotlines of the play. More impactfully, the roles of Titania and Oberon are swapped. That is to say, Titania is now a mother determined to get her child back from her husband’s clutches, and Oberon is now the one being tricked into falling in love with Bottom, the half-man half-Donkey.
This is where some of the best performances come out to play. Robert Elkin plays Bottom with a false modesty and kookiness which is on one hand clearly egotistical, yet at the same time irresistibly likeable. Adam Donaldson plays Oberon with comedic precision and nails every line and gesture of the role. As the two of them flirt with each other to the sound of The Darkness’s “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”, they suddenly seem like the most logical and enchanting pairing of the whole play!
Photo Credit: Tom Duncan
But as good as Elkin is, Dick resists the urge to put him at the forefront of every scene with the Mechanics. Instead, every member gets their moment to shine, and there isn’t a single one who didn’t make me laugh. Sam Stopford is crowd-pleasing as Puck; he is enthusiastic and can bound around the stage with fairy-like elegance. It may not be the most original performance on the stage, but it needn’t be when playing a character with such reliable charisma as Robin Goodfellow. The stand-out of the whole cast however is Katie Barnett. Her spaniel-like Helena is snappy and humble in all the right places. She demonstrates that she is the kind of performer who can deliver lines you have heard a million times before, and make it feel like you are hearing them for the first time all over again.
Photo Credit: Tom Duncan
The cast are not only individually strong but come together as a tightly-knit ensemble. They have a shared confidence that carries the performance into places where other companies would fall apart, and never is that more obvious than during the modern moments of the show. The line between “too subtle” and “unbearably naff” when using modern language and comedy into classic plays is razor-thin. But here we can enjoy hilarious moments, like when the Mechanics commandeer an audience member’s phone only to “discover” some outrageous photographs, without fearing that they will cross the line into cliché. Even the use of modern music and sounds is surprisingly knowing; we are treated to dodgy acapella renditions of Katy Perry’s “Firework”, “American Pie”, and the 20th Century Fox theme that goes beyond simply using modern sounds as a punchline, but making them significant, even meta. But without overthinking it, you can’t go far wrong with this show. It is well worth lugging out camping chairs, blankets, wine and snacks for a show this fun and full of sunshine. Four stars.
Whispers from the Crowd: "It was lots of fun! They were high energy, and Puck was really good." "Helena was brilliant" "Yeah, the cast were all having fun."
A Midsummer Night's Dream will run in the Glasgow Botanic Gardens until July 9.