Posts Tagged ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

Review – Midsummer Night’s Dream – Tooting Arts Club

August 17, 2013

What a week! I’ve been to see A Chorus Line and the Globe’s all-day Henry VI-athon, but what I want to write about is the Tooting Arts Club’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Theater in the non-ritzy, southern end of zone three is hard to come by, and it was Tara Arts only until Tooting Arts Club came on the scene. Their Barbarians blew me out of the water, and I was excited to see they were doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream this year. I was promised (somewhere!) it would be set in modern Tooting, and I was curious how they would handle it – it’s a very exciting neighborhood but hardly a Grecian glen in the making.

As it turns out, this Midsummer was very traditional in terms of the dialogue, but took wild liberties with the sets and costumes. We were supposedly at Tooting Common (actually a darned shame there is no outdoor Shakespeare festival there!), as indicated by Astroturf, a “Lido” sign, and some helpfully scattered garbage; but, as crammed into the auto repair shop that is the main theater at the Tooting Arts Club, Titania’s bower wound up being a redecorated sink/handwashing area (a later version of the bower is hidden behind a rolling garage door – a nice touch). The costumes were fully outrageous, both clearly done on a budget and yet highly inventive. Both Peaseblossom and Mustardseed had indicative elements strapped on a la codpiece (never seen a sack of frozen peas used that way before!), while the Athenian lovers wore school uniforms.

What was really great about the costume design (aside from the toy electric guitar) was the way the clear cut differences between each of the groups meant we had no problems distinguishing between player, royalty, Athenian, and fairy; in fact, it took me some time before I realized that the whole show was being done with about seven actors in total. This is made a joke at the very end, when King Theseus has to shed his robes in order to join the players; but really, it was all done very well. Hard to believe the same person played both sweaty ol’ Bottom and the noble Egeus!

While I had been expecting more references to modern Tooting life, what I did NOT expect (and appreciated more) was a fully realized directing approach that showed ingenuity, imagination, and a real understanding of what makes a play move along well. This found reached its apogee in the Helena/Hermia fight scene (the one with the insults about Hermia’s height), which had Lysander and Demetrius grappling in real mud. Yes, the chicken dance at the very end of the show was amusing, but seeing Hermia fling the men around as if she was in a martial arts flick broke my funnybone. It was like The Matrix as done by the Three Stooges. I have never in my life laughed so hard while watching Shakespeare – even the Rude Mechanicals (who normally bore me) got the giggles going. (Oh, when Robin Starveling told off Hippolyta, that was SO perfect!)

Overall, while Tooting Arts’ Club’s Midsummer was not what I expected, it was even better than I had hoped, showing not just how flexible Shakespeare can be, but how less can regularly be more. And at £14 a ticket (£9 if you’re a local like me), it’s a screaming deal. Hurray for the summer of Shakespeare! Hurray for the Tooting Arts Club! Hurray for awesome, affordable theater!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, August 14th, 2013. It continues through September 7th. The theater is accessed via a nearly unnoticeable driveway entrance between two buildings – give yourself extra time to reconnoiter on your way from the Tooting Broadway tube stop.)

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Review – A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Southwark Playhouse

February 14, 2009

Last night I went with a group of friends to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Southwark Playhouse. I’d never been there before and was enticed to attend the performance strictly on the basis of the flyer I saw at the Union Theater last month – and the fact they said the whole performance took only 90 minutes*! (The previous Midsummer I’d seen, at the Roundhouse, seemed to go way too long, and I didn’t want a repeat of that, even on a Friday.) The flyer showed a girl made up to look like an apprentice Geisha (with a strong touch of The Mikado in her styling), and just looked so pretty and charming that I thought, hey, this looks like something that could really work, and it’s one of those cute little south London theatrical spaces that need my support, and why not go? So seven of us rolled the dice and descended on the Southwark Playhouse in hope of a good night out.

As it turns out, my hope was repaid in spades. Everything about this performance was a pleasure to me, from the sound design to the set to the movement, the costuming, the props, and (of course) the performance – including the number of actors they’d chosen to perform it (utterly fat-free at seven). Instead of the normal uncomfortable yuck I felt with the arrival of the usually painfully imaginary Greek monarchs** Theseus (Kenji Watanabe) and Hippolyta (You-Ri Yamanaka), I was actually pulled in my their regal bearing and effortlessly graceful movement (as they knelt on stage to accept the petitions of Egeus and the youngsters) and … by God, they’d created a court in front of me, and I bought that the humbly bowing Hermia (Nina Kwok) actually had her life on the line by daring to reject her father’s match. I don’t think Demetrius (David Lee-Jones) and Lysander (Matt McCooey) were entirely believable as samurai – but that was okay, we had a story to tell and the accommodation was a small one since the overall premise of the show (the ball that starts the drama rolling) had actually been made digestible to me for the first time ever.

With so much of the play pared away, the dialogue popped way to the fore, and I found myself paying far more attention and actually really being able to enjoy the poetry of Shakespeare’s words. The description of love and lovers seemed gorgeously suitable for a pre-Valentine’s play, and Lysander’s later rejection of Hermia as “an acorn … a dwarf!” incredibly harsh and cutting (and funny). Hermia and Helena (Julia Sandiford)’s light and dark pink kimono were both suitably romantic, young-lady appropriate, and plain enough to do double duty – or in this case triple duty, as they played themselves, two members of the acting troupe AND members of Titania’s fairy court! I was really impressed at how well the actors handled all of these transitions and that they were able to appropriately convey them with the addition of an apron or a mask, while the bodies remained dressed in the same colors (nice job to the costumer, whom I’m guessing is Wai Yin Kwok, credited as “designer” in the program). Possibly more impressive were the props, which consisted entirely of … fans. Not a bunch of fans, either, but about six, which were cups to be drunk from, flowers to be plucked, scripts, scrolls, you name it – everything except for the wall and the lion’s mane used by the Rude Mechanicals in their performance of Pyramus and Thisbe.

I also liked the way the performance was done movement-wise, in two ways. First, the hall was set up so that we were watching – er – theater in the oblong. You see, there was a long ramp down the middle, with a painting on both ends, and we the audience set up on both sides of the stage. And yet (though I was sat in the middle), I only felt once or twice like I was missing any of the action due to blocked sight lines. I liked having the actors exit from both ends of the theater – and I liked how they could appear at the top of the back wall (over the painting of the tree) or even from behind the stage (when Titania awakes to behold her lovely ass-headed Bottom).

The second thing I enjoyed about the movement was how it was used to convey character. This is most especially true in the case of Puck (Jay Oliver Yip, also Egeus and Quince of the acting troupe), who bounced along in a way that was entirely different from any “Puck-ish” fairy I had ever seen, and yet who was entirely believable as a supernatural being because of his movement. He also was good at conveying impishness, resentment, and a variety of other emotions through his body, and, as an actor, set himself up as an utterly different character from the uptight Egeus and the blowsy Quince. Titania got hairpins and lost her Hippolyta shawl to convey her change, but Puck pretty much just had to do his transformation with the way he walked. Very nice job!

Have I enthused enough? As we walked out, we were all chattering madly away about what a good time we’d had. One of my friends found Theseus occasionally a bit hard to understand, but no one complained about the use of Japanese – it all seemed to fit in nicely and I didn’t feel like we were losing any of the Shakespeare because of it. And we were talking about the irony of having the different actors play the different characters, and the fun of the fans, and the cool set, and … what a good evening it had been and what a find the theater was and on and on and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d walked out of a Shakespearean play with more energy than when we’d walked in and at the end of a work week, nonetheless. So hats off to Jonathan Man for his brilliant realization of this play and thank you to all of the people who came together to create this really great night out.

*Ultimately the play runs more like 120 minutes as there is an interval, and that 90 minutes is only if you see one of the school productions. Still, I was back in Tooting at about 10:15, which seemed quite reasonable.

**painful due to the utter dissociation with what I’d expect of BCE Greek performance. I mean, please, you can look at all the Greek theater you want and it never reads a bit like Shakespeare’s version of Greece.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, February 13th, 2009. The show continues until February 28th.)