A Midsummer Night’s Dream review: The Rude Mechanicals run the show

Dublin Theatre Festival: Shakespeare’s comedy of transformation and desire meets the raucous energy of an outdoor music festival in an anarchic production

A Midsummer Night’s Dream ★★★★
Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin

Where are we now? Shakespeare’s comedy of escape, transformation and radically fickle desire always whisks its misaligned young lovers away from the suffocating court into a moonlit forest of meddling fairies, where anything seems possible.

In this fantastically raucous treatment from Lyric Hammersmith and Filter Theatre – veering between freewheeling improv, original verse and blistering live music – we find a more contemporary playground.

The enfolding white walls of Hyemi Shin’s set may make playful allusions to Peter Brook, but directors Sean Holmes and Stef O’Driscoll are far more likely to charge through them. As beer cans and pop-up tents jostle with spandex costumes and suggestively sprayed arcs of enchanting “love juice”, the libidinous celebration of the play looks giddily familiar. We’re at a music festival.

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That, happily, is where this version began, first performed at Latitude, and it has retained a fittingly anarchic spirit. We begin with a hilariously apologetic prologue from Ed Gaughan as a faffing Peter Quince, deliriously upending the play: the stumblebum Rude Mechanicals, usually responsible for the play-within-the-play (“the metafiction, if you will”) have here taken over.

The immediate fun of that disruption, replete with commentary and very special-guest star Bottom, can make it hard to shift gears back into Shakespeare’s text, but over 100 busy minutes, nothing is allowed to sag.

Among the tangled lovers, Clare Dunne is sublime, turning her spurned Helena into an earthy Dublin masochist (“I am your spaniel”), later bewildered when she magically becomes sought-after by gyrating lotharios.

Following the logic of some admirably unconventional casting, Oberon, the king of the fairies, is played by Harry Jardine as a puffed up dweeb in a silver cape, aided by Ferdy Roberts, as imposing as a grizzled roadie, as Puck. Like Filter’s playful approach to sound and music, or Fergus O’Donnell gamely making an ass of himself, that amplifies the play’s comedy but mutes its fascinating darkness: less attention is given to humiliation and abuse, than another opportunity for a pleasing visual gag. (These shadows have not offended.)

Instead, like festivals from Midsummer Eve to Latitude, the show is brimming over with goodwill, and it all ends in a very charming Dream.
Until Oct 1st
Peter Crawley