A Midsummer Night’s Dream

March 9, 2022 | By More

★★★☆☆     Spacey

Assembly Roxy: Mon 7 – Thurs 10 March 2022
Review by Thom Dibdin

Brief, but never tedious, the jazz-infused production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company at Assembly Roxy is packed with great ideas and quirky detail.

There are some excellent performances, particularly from the fairy band, but that brevity proves to be the undoing of the Lovers, who have an unfortunate tendency to rush at it in something of an overwrought frenzy, when a considered approach might have produced a more satisfyingly climactic result.

The fairy band. Pic: EUSC

Sara Cemin’s refreshing direction refuses to treat the text as sacrosanct. She doesn’t alter it, but brings in plenty of wee asides and chat backs – particularly from characters who are being berated for their actions.

Lucy Melrose is particularly petulant as Hermia when Egeus (here her mother, played by Minna Gillett) and Archie Turnbull’s up-tight Theseus are discussing her fate if she refuses to marry Will Nye’s stolid Demetrius – she loves Archie Barrington’s only slightly more fluid Lysander.

Priya Basra puts in the production’s stand-out performance as Puck. Her conniving looks to the audience when being lectured by Haig Lucas’s officious Oberon are a pure delight. These, and the cheeky comments to Oberon from the fairy band when Titania leads them off the stage, make perfect sense of the existing text.

However, there is a much more powerful and subversive reading from Hippolyta. Clara Wessely gives nearly every line of hers a substantially double meaning and, together with various sarcastic harrumphs of derision, substantially undermines Theseus.

fascinating take

It is a fascinating take, which perhaps plays too much with the bawdy (funny and relevant though it is) when there is a greater depth to be found by exploring her subjugation by Theseus. Her flat-out refusal to accept any of it is, however, immensely refreshing, even if the most interesting aspects of Theseus’s role are somewhat overshadowed in the process.

Priya Basra (Puck) and Haig Lucas (Oberon) wth Mark Sandford on bass. Screen grab.

Cemin makes good use of the Mechanicals in the opening scenes, when the royals wander through their rehearsal. This allows for a lot more interaction, with Devki Panchamatia’s Starveling particularly well used, taking orders from Theseus and lending an ear to Isabella Hodgson’s lively Helena as she bemoans her lot, detailing Demetrius’s inconstancies.

There is less scope for tinkering with the mechanicals’ own scenes, which fall out reasonably well. However, Cemin does have a tendency to try and over-egg the comedy (particularly the play-within-a-play) – the scenes are funny enough without having to push it.

Indeed, Max Prentice’s turn as Bottom makes the case for the argument that the straighter and more sincerely you play the comedy, the funnier it becomes. Prentice has plenty to do beyond his celebrated turning into an ass, but it his scenes with Titania that work best, with Marina Funcasta really turning on the temptress charm as the Fairy Queen.

MDs Mark Sandford and Joe Pratt have written a strong jazz score for the band, which is onstage throughout. Whether sound designer Mick Zijdel means it or not, there’s a clever psychedelic edge added to the sound when the band strikes up an underscore and the performers switch to the microphones.

The Roxy is not an easy space to design sound for, however, with its long, reverberating acoustic. Consequently, while the music works, those original songs which involve more than one singer fail to land cleanly.

That said, this is a fascinating production in its own right. The technological difficulties do need to be surmounted, but when they are, this is a Dream which adds new facets to one of Shakespeare’s most-performed texts.

Running time: Two hours and ten minutes.
Assembly Roxy, 2 Roxburgh Place, EH8 9SU
Mon 7 – Thurs 10 March 2022
Evening: 7pm (Roxy Central).
Tickets and details:  Book here.

ENDS

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