Comedy. Tragedy. Star crossed lovers. Deceptions, donkeys and a play within a play. All of the above sound tremendously Shakespearian until I mention the Post-it notes, don’t they?
Like any adaptation of the Bard worth its salt, the RHUL Shakespeare society’s original production ‘A Midsummer Nightmare’ contained all of the above and more, with the audience invited to peer behind the scenes of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and watch Tarquin-Ann Richardson the Third and troupe attempt to make it to opening night without unlearnt lines, gargantuan egos and a four-person Swedish pop band destroying all of their hard work.
With choreographed dance numbers, acting tips and actual passages of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ performed throughout, on paper the play seems in danger of feeling a little crowded. The pacing however offset this, with fast transitions between scenes keeping a consistent flow through all the different elements of the play. There’s also quick, cutting and hilariously astute jibes at other societies in attendance which helps the audience to take brief breaks from the action by being lampooned with accuracy comparable to a dry-witted sniper.
The chaos that unfolded throughout its runtime was consistent, unexpected and funny, with scenes reminiscent of ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ scattered throughout and verbal battles and slapstick delivered tremendously by all involved. A particular round of applause must go to comedic tour de force Jimmy The Dagger (James Shannon) who acts as a whirling dervish of energy the entire runtime, and Norman Mates (an utterly chilling Drew Burnham) a character so ‘touched by the night’ that the front row were left in fits of laughter at the expense of one terrified member. Burnham even manages to overshadow co-star Stephen Fry – yes, that Stephen Fry – with a stare to rival Hannibal Lecter’s.
If the thought of an audience with one of the UK’s national “Not yet an OBE” treasures doesn’t draw you in, the fizzing tension between the sparkly suited and insufferably arrogant Ralph Streisand (Eleanor Ball) and ambitious Persephone Jones (Emily Wilkinson) should do. The ambiguity of whether one will kiss or kill the other from scene to scene is as watchable as Kate’s wooing in ‘Taming of The Shrew’ and happily contains far less misogynistic taming. It’s surprising that the dementedly enthusiastic and far too recognisable fangirl Fanny (Lizzie Mairi Anne) hasn’t declared the will-they-won’t-they couple her OTP as well, although I imagine perpetually done POLO Clive the Stage Manager (Niamh Adams) may intervene.
As well as being genuinely funny, ‘Midsummer Nightmare’ also manages to be unexpectedly touching in parts. The conflict between Tarquin-Ann (William Lawson) and the delightfully ditzy Dory White (Sophie Barton) in particular is explored sensitively, and true character development occurs in both painfully shy Mandy from IT (Lucy Wilson) and the slimy Fred Meat (Matthew Bird) towards the end of the play, leaving the audience to root for even the most flawed and egotistical of the ensemble as the interpersonal tensions finally boil over.