‘wildly funny and very, very clever’

REVIEW: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Royal Exchange, Manchester, until August 4th.

The group of actors, designers and musicians work together on a tight schedule to produce innovative drama. After their success with Twelfth Night for the RSC’s Complete Works Festival some years ago, they moved on to other projects and returned to Shakespeare for a Festival and Tour in 2010 with MSND.

With the help of the Lyric Hammersmith they developed their interpretation in 2011 and now they are presenting in the round at the Royal Exchange. A cast of 10 plus one present the play, with most of the familiar story and much of the beautiful language, but the running time is just under two hours so, clearly, much has been cut. However, what replaces it is a stunning use of sound.

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Chris Branch and Alan Pagan have their complex sound equipment on stage and create superb effects, particularly for the fairies, and all the cast move between acting roles and helping and the musicians also act as the Rude Mechanicals.

Ed Gaughan plays a brilliantly funny Peter Quince, who tries to be in charge of everything. Gemma Saunders, Rebecca Scroggs, Rhys Rusbatch and John Lightbody play the four confused lovers, and Poppy Miller and Jonathan Broadbent double as Hippolita and Theseus and Titania and Oberon where their comic talents shine. Ferdy Roberts is a marvellous Puck as a bearded workman with all kinds of tricks.

I can’t give away the first big comic upset, but the Plus One Actor is a great surprise and a delight. What I liked so much about this production was the humour, the acting, but most of its clever playing about with the “suspension of disbelief” aspect. This becomes a play within a play within a play, but with knowing asides to the audience, so that we become part of the comedy (which works well in the Exchange’s intimate atmosphere).

The contemporary elements are also wittily appropriate. I send a big thank you to all the designers and production team for a great evening and a whole new take on a play I know so well.

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