A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Abbey Theatre, Dublin
Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Gavin Quinn
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is being staged at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre for the first time in 35 years. Given the fact that this is one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays this time gap is a little baffling however the Abbey seem to be rediscovering Shakespeare’s more magical texts since last year’s successful performance of Twelfth Night.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a story of lovers in ancient Athens who find their way through the confusion and magic of a night in the woods, populated by nymphs and fairies, to their final married end.
As it is so well known one of the difficulties for theatre companies hoping to stage a new production is how to make it surprising, how to bring out the comedy in jokes and scenarios that are so well known?
This is something Pan Pan have tackled head on by inverting the audience’s expectations and setting the play in a nursing home. This is a daring move by director Gavin Quinn. Quinn has worked with Pan Pan for many years and has pulled out all the stops for his Abbey theatre debut. The actors, many of them veterans of the Abbey, are sure and steady in this production. Four of them appeared in the Abbey’s last 1979 production.
Thwarted lover Hermia is denied permission to marry her beloved Lysander not by her father but by her son and Helena finds herself spurned by ageing lothario Demetrius. As they flee into the woods to avoid a marriage enforced by the Duke of Athens they walk into an argument between the King and Queen of the fairies, Oberon and Titania. When a six piece acting troupe get caught up in the middle of this the stage is set.
This excellent adaptation stays very close to Shakespeare’s text, comes at a time when the lack of rôles for older people within the acting industry are being questioned. Pan Pan without doubt deliver a deeply humorous and at times touching play the makes it clear that age is no barrier to acting ability and to the ability to entertain an audience.
The play’s multiple plot lines are well – handled and never become confusing. The famous play within a play; the tale of doomed lovers Pyramus and Thisbe, performed by the Rude Mechanicals makes the audience laugh continuously. Furthermore the way Pan Pan play with age allows for new areas of humour, with one scene in which mobile phones take the place of an almanac.
The attention to detail is exquisite; from the shoes worn by the nursing home assistants to the colour of the walls to the use of lighting and colour. The company augments the actors’ voices by using sound to elicit changes in emotion, from sincerity to humour. For example the play opens to the sound of Riders on the Storm, the curtains drawing back to show the home’s inhabitants exercising to the music.
The apparatus of a nursing home; Zimmer frames, wheelchairs and walking sticks are used successfully to comedic effect. The nursing home theme is carried through to the surreal setting of the woods as love potions and cures are delivered by drip and oxygen mask.
Pan Pan’s performance has innovated the tried and tested format of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and captured the timelessness of love.
Photo by Ros Kavanagh. Runs until March 28th.