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Summer on Stage 2019

July 22, 2019 | By | Reply More

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: ★★★☆☆  Truncated

Teechers: ★★★★☆ Soaring

Royal Lyceum: Fri 19/Sat 20 July 2019
Review by Thom Dibdin

LYT turn to potent comedy for this year’s Summer on Stage at the Lyceum with a two night double bill of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Godber’s Teechers.

The company might be taking a strongly humorous path, but that doesn’t mean that it is dropping the darker side of drama which it has explored in recent years’ productions. There are dark undertones to both of this year’s offerings.

The cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Rehearsal. Pic Lyceum

The younger of the companies has the mighty task of the Dream. Even in this hour-long version in which huge swathes of text are represented by dance figures, there is plenty to find behind the lines.

The production is framed by a sequence of semi-formal dances, performed wearing shades and sharp black suits by the Athenian court to incongruous rock riffs. These set up Duke Theseus’s court, where he is to marry Amazonian queen Hippolyta.

If William Randall has a domineering aura as Theseus, there is a real sneer and curl of the lip to Layla Norrie’s Hippolyta whenever their future nuptials are mentioned – reminding of the conflict from which they were born.

In fact, the short running time distills the various love affairs right down to their basic elements, emphasising that they are all born out of conflict and based not on free will but on coercion of some kind.

Titania (Anoushka Ross) and Oberon (Francesca Broome) might be queen and king of the fairies, but their relationship is expressed through their battle over a foundling child – which in turn precipitates the action of the whole play.

Puck in rehearsal. Pic Aly Wight

Then there is the ever morphing conflict between the four lovers – Lulu Perren as the father-defying Hermia in love with Magnus Chapman’s rather gauche Lysander, but beloved of Cormac MacLachlan’s brilliantly created dull lunkard of a Demetrius, who is in turn beloved of Mattie Gilburt’s over-eager Helena.

With the lads reduced to little more than cliche, it is left to Perren and Gilburt to bring out the best of this quartet and if they don’t quite reach screaming pitch for their confrontation, they certainly make their own relationship the most interesting of the production.

Contrast with the two comic loves – between Titania and Bottom the weaver transformed to an ass, and the short tale of Pyramus and Thysbe, as portrayed by the mechanicals in the play within a play they are to perform for the Duke’s wedding party.

All of which seem to be saying that it is not merely that true love’s course does not run easy, but that marriage based on love is doomed to be both tedious and brief.

etherial

Speaking Shakespeare on stage is not easy and while many of the performers achieved good clarity, several seem overcome by the forced rhymes of the lines, rather than the rhythm that comes from speaking them naturally.

Director Katie Mitchell’s strongest idea for the production is to have three actors play Puck. Bridget Samson, Simi Adedokun and Abigail Svaasand rise easily to the task, adding a slightly etherial touch to the role.

The major focus, however, is on the comedy and despite losing so much text Mitchell still allows her mechanicals plenty of time for various bits of extra business and rhubarbing.

Sergio Plummer shines as the full-of-himself Bottom, but this scheme allows the other mechanicals greater scope to shine than is always the case. Jade Adedokun is marvellously glaikit as Snug, but Dennis McMillan really steps up to the mark as Flute, who tries to get out of playing Thisbe, as he “has a beard coming”.

The cast of Teechers in Rehearsal. Pic Lyceum

The older group move up through the gears with a big, striking production of Teechers. They see Godber’s assertion that, while he wrote the script for a trio it could be played by 20 – and raise it a whole 13.

And it works brilliantly. There is plenty for the 33 to do. In fact, their number allows the different characters to be explored in much more depth than if they had been portrayed by just three.

According to the programme note this is set in contemporary Scotland. However, its impeccable early 80s punk rock, new wave and new romantic soundtrack combines with a lack of references to contemporary gadgets so you would only know so because you read it there.

The play is set around probationary teacher Nixon, about whom three narrator figures have created a play set in their down-at-heal Whitewall comprehensive over the eight months he is there.

Director Sophie Howell’s masterstroke is to have Nixon played by three actors, allowing Toni Renz, Jasper Harris and Louis Kennedy to portray different sides of the character and, at times, for him to step outside himself and observe his own failings as he elects to apply for a better post in a posh, nearby school with better resources and richer parents.

Teechers in Rehearsal. Pic Aly Wight

Max Lauder, Mathilda Chapman and Hannah Douglas-Walker put in strong, physical performances as the three narrators, Salty, Gail and Hobby, supposed lost causes who are about to leave school after fifth year with little or no prospects.

There are great wee performances all round the shop. Torin McGregor cross dresses to hilarious effect as games teacher Miss Prime, Emer Irvine is believably harsh as the feared Mr Basford while bringing out his own cynicism in sending his own kids to the posh school, Adam McIntosh finds the complexities in the outwardly simply school caretaker, Doug, and Sophia Macchi Watts is a compelling head teacher, Mrs Parry, obsessed with putting on her own am-dram effort.

But it is the general ensemble that makes it all so strong. So that while Cian Tangney does stand out as bully boy Oggy Moxon, it is the surrounding movement in the classroom that really makes him so dreaded. While Nixon’s alienation stems from both the members of his class and his supposed colleagues in the staff room.

The result is a production which makes full use of a big company to give a modern classic several new layers of understanding. With plenty of comment on the relationship between status and education that is true, whether it is set in 1984 or 2019.

Running time: Two hours and 45 minutes (including one interval)
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street, EH3 9AX
Friday 19-Saturday 20 July 2019
Evenings: 7.30pm.

ENDS

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