A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Smock Alley, Dublin

First Published April 2015

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HAMLETMIDSUMMER - Smock Alley

Writer: William Shakespeare

Purple Coat Productions have returned to Dublin’s Smock Alley theatre after last year’s triumphant Twelfth Night with a Shakespearean double-bill. Purple Coat are presenting both Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the Smock Alley Theatre stage. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s best loved and most performed plays. This means that often the audience are aware of events before they happen and the theatre company have the added challenge of making their production fresh and relevant. This is something that Purple Coat do by playing up the humour; props, physicality and voice intonation helping to flesh out the comedy that runs from the beginning to the end. The stage of the Boys School at Smock Alley Theatre helps with this. It is a small intimate theatre in a beautiful brick building that was once a boy’s school and at another time a church. It forces the players to be close to the audience and makes interaction easier.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a tale of love, magic and loyalty. As Duke Theseus of Athens and the Amazon Queen Hippolyta prepare to marry, four young lovers find themselves unable to marry their loved ones. Instead of accepting their fate, they take action. The plot moves to a forest; the realm of Fairyland which is overseen by King and Queen of the fairies Oberon and Titania. When their worlds collide magical deeds, love and humour are the result. Into this interconnected chaos walk the Rude Mechanicals, a band of amateur actors who intend to perform a play at the royal nuptials.

The scene in the woods where Lysander and Demetrius fight over Helena’s love is particularly funny. Never has silly string, shaving foam, wigs and socks been used so successfully to comic effect in a Shakespeare play. Further the relationship between Oberon and Puck (or Batman and Robin as they were also known) was very well done. The harsher edge was taken off Oberon in favour of a lighter tone. This is something that was done throughout and although the play was very funny some may lament the loss of the harder edge; after all Hermia does potentially face death if she does not agree to her father’s choice of husband for her. Even in one of the most magical of Shakespeare’s plays there is a darker undertone.

Over all the cast, in which women outnumber men approximately two to one, work well together and set changes are relatively smooth. Their timing and pace keeps the audience’s attention and maintain the humour throughout. This ensemble manage to balance the language with physicality and staging; allowing the magic of Shakespeare’s prose to shine through. The addition of modern music works surprisingly well (somehow making the inclusion of Tragedy by Steps seem perfectly natural). This modern, energetic re – interpretation stays close to the original text but uses costumes in particular to bring a new edge to the show. A few of the cast do need however to work on voice projection if they are to work in larger theatres in the future. Purple Coat Productions, a Liverpool based theatre company, have been doing very well over the past few years, receiving support from Stephen Fry and Sir Ian McKellen among others and will hopefully continue to bring Shakespeare to the Dublin stage for many years to come.

 Photo courtesy of Smock Alley. The double bill of Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream Runs Until April 11th 2015.

Review Overview

The Public Reviews’ Score: 4*

Amusing