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A Midsummer Night's Dream
Published on Thursday, 16 August 2012
4

4 stars

theSpace on North Bridge (venue website)
Theatre
2 Aug, 7:05pm-8:55pm; 4-5 Aug, 5:45pm-6:45pm; 6, 8, 10 Aug, 4:30pm-5:30pm, 7:05pm-8:55pm; 7, 9, 11-12, 14-19, 21-27 Aug, 4:30pm-5:30pm
Reviewed by Alasdair Lane

 Parents or guardians should consider the content of this show if children are attending.
 Family-friendly. Suitable for all ages.

These days, it seems, Shakespeare productions can never be just as the Bard penned them. This is no bad thing; remakes can incorporate daringly different settings, or unique takes on original themes. They can, however, also completely miss the mark and bastardise source material. Drunk Tank Productions' A Midsummer Night's Dream is certainly not the latter – in fact, it's very good – but unfortunately it makes one key mistake, by failing to properly commit to its intriguingly unique backdrop.

Nuclear holocaust has forced the world elite into underground bunkers, leaving the impoverished surface survivors to form post-apocalyptic militant sects. This is the division between Shakespeare's Athenians and Fairies, and is a very compelling premise indeed. The play oozes with a sense of decrepit jazz-age grandeur right from the get-go, with a grainy black-and-white film providing a prologue, and the topic continues with an excellently atmospheric post-civilisation set design. The inherently mystical nature of a post-apocalyptic setting made it a good choice for a Midsummer adaptation, something you could tell was not lost on the audience.

Sizzlingly intriguing though the backdrop may have been, the actors still had to deliver. Thankfully they did. Our young lovers tripped and tumbled and swooned and swaggered passionately in their often hilarious and lusty pursuits of one another. Not only did they grasp the comedy of the story, but its drama as well: Hermia's attack on the supposed treacherous Helena was exploding with rage and distress, bringing balance to the performance. For me, though, it was the sinisterly playful Puck who impressed the most, syringing love potion into Athenians with all the menace of mad man hell bent on mischief. It was he who added the much-needed darkness to the comedy.

As with the original, the action is fast and furious, with characters entering and exiting the stage with exhilarating (if rather disorientating) flurries of motion. The action isn’t restricted to the stage, as the centre aisle played host to plot-heavy happenings as well. But this proved not to be such a good idea, as all too often punters found themselves rubbernecking to see the action – usually taking a retina-toasting spotlight to the eyes in the process.

The main shortcoming, however, was the show's lack of ambition. For all the powerful scene-setting at the start, very soon we were watching just another A Midsummer Night's Dream. Save for a few gimmicky allusion to the modern-era setting (the use of a vintage camera and a few smoke grenades are all that spring to mind), it was nothing more than a solid rendition of the original. This was a real missed opportunity in my book.

Yet, Drunk Tank Productions' A Midsummer Night's Dream plays a safe game very well. The acting is top-notch and, with the help of a few standout performances, the comedy is really well-gauged. Those Shakespeare purists amongst us will be pleased too because, despite a radically different setting, the show doesn't stray too much from the text. Even though it doesn’t do as much with its concept as I’d hoped it might, this adaptation still definitely merits a recommendation.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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