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A Midsummer Night's Madness
Published on Tuesday, 24 August 2010

4 stars

C (venue website)
4-30 Aug (not 16), 5:00pm (6:15pm)
Reviewed by Susannah Radford

The midsummer madness is underway even before this play begins; with the actors already loose in the theatre, it was a mad, mad world we entered at C.  Some were lying on the seats, while others walked around singing, dancing and playing.  One guy asked a number of people whether they had seen his dog, then was led on a wild-goose chase by another of the characters.  The unconventional opening summed up the Hackney-Harlem Theatre Company’s production as a whole, while cleverly mirroring the world of chaos let loose within the play.

This production sees Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream get a hip-hop makeover.  Set in 2068, it’s also the ‘good bits’ version: text has been replaced by song, and it works surprisingly well.  Egeus’ admonishment of his daughter was delivered as ballad and sung with a sweet soulful voice, as was Lysander’s duet with Hermia.  Among other set-pieces, Titania wiled her way through a song celebrating women.

Inspirational casting see three actresses play the fairy queen Titania.  Being such a fierce, sensual and - here - thrice-powerful woman, it’s no wonder Oberon had to resort to magic to get his own way.  Puck’s attention is diverted from his duties to break the fourth wall, as he climbs over two rows to chat up a girl in the audience.  Helena is a little dim and very funny for it.

There was a powerhouse performance by the actor playing Nicolas Bottom, which at times risked leaving the rest of the production in the shade.  His contribution was an explosion of comedy, song and dance, as Bottom boasted of his prowess for all things theatrical; a long career in comedy and theatre is waiting for this guy.  His was the stand-out performance, but the rest of the cast all performed with verve.

Gender politics are just as present in this production as they are in Shakespeare: fathers try to overpower daughters, husbands overpower wives and boyfriends play with female affections.  Titania falls in love with an ass, Hippolyta is ignored by her husband-to-be, Hermia is threatened with death and loses a man, Helena gains two admirers after being rejected.  It’s a hard night for the girls.

A Midsummer Night’s Madness is an energetic, entertaining production.  With a little bit more tightening it could be even better.  By the end of the show, the audience were on their feet in standing ovation; I only wish all Shakespeare were this fun.

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These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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