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Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Blue Elephant Theatre, London

by Angela Johnson. Published Wed 05 Dec 2012 16:12

"The course of true love never did run smooth..." or, indeed, the British transport system whenever the snow hits!

As the cold winter snaps at our heels, Lazarus Theatre Company invite us to a smooth but ever farcically lovestruck production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at The Blue Elephant Theatre, Kennington.

Director Ricky Dukes has done wonders with this abridged version of the Bard's magical comedy, with all the absurdities of spritely trickery condensed into 80 minutes of action without an interval. Yet the performance does not feel rushed - far from it. Lingering scene and lighting changes, along with an impressive snow machine, give a lofty, enchanting and well-paced feel to a familiar story for Shakespeare fans, and an easy-to-digest version for those new to the text.

The play opens, in Ricky Dukes' words, at a 'The Last Supper' styled banquet table Theseus and Hippolyta's wedding with costume placing us in 1950s Italy to give a recognisably historical feel.

Once it emerges that Hermia (Julie Gilby), betrothed to Demetrius (Stuart Mortimer), is in love with Lysander (Joseph Tweedale), she must choose between death or a life of chastity. Desperate, Lysander hatches a plan to flee from Athens that night. Meanwhile lovelorn Helena (Ewa Jaworski), who has eyes only for Demetrius, betrays their plan and urges him to follow the lovers. All the while, she follows, devoting herself to his bidding - much to Demetrius' disgust.

And so the farce unravels as, on the same night, Bottom (James Taylor Thomas) and his fellow actors are set to rehearse a play in the forest. Oberon (Michael Bagwell) and Titania (Alice Brown) meddle in the woods with Puck's mischievous role enthrallingly shared between the sprites. The direction worked well, giving a fresh view of the hilarious culmination of errors leading to the fairy queen Titania seducing Bottom while Lysander and Demetrius fall for Helena with poor Hermia suddenly left cast aside.

A whirl of energy fills the intimate space - the audience so close to the action they can feel a part of it. Each player was clearly giving the show their all, particularly the four lovers in a final clash of confusion, to much comic effect. It is James Taylor Thomas' Bottom that steals the show with a marvellously effeminate, hammed-up portrayal of the pompous ass. A joy to watch, it reminded me that Panto season is upon us and there is much to be said for this Midsummer tale to be told in the depths of winter. The slightly shivering crowd are sharply given Shakespeare's reminder that love, in all its many guises, can be fickle and fleeting. So, too, is this wonderful run by Lazarus so catch the action before it is spirited away.

8/10

Running until Saturday 15 December (Tuesday – Saturday only)
Tickets: £15 (£10 conc. and previews Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 November), £9 Southwark residents

Listings Information:

Venue: Blue Elephant Theatre, 59a Bethwin Rd, Camberwell, SE5 0XT

Nearest tube: Oval (Northern Line)

Box Office: 020 7701 0100/084 4477 1000

www.blueelephanttheatre.co.uk



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