REVIEW: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Alnwick Playhouse until Saturday

The Faries led by Amy Barrett (Titania) and Fynn Riseborough (Oberon) in Midsummer Night's Dream. Pictures by Will Larkin
The Faries led by Amy Barrett (Titania) and Fynn Riseborough (Oberon) in Midsummer Night's Dream. Pictures by Will Larkin

‘Let’s do it, let’s fall in love’ they said, and indeed the audience were cast under a spell with this theatrical masterpiece.

From the lighting to the set through to the actors on stage and the costumes they wore, the students from the Duchess’s Community High School have proved that their latest production was nothing less than a professional performance, which even had the audience in tears of laughter at the end.

The arts departments of the school came together to produce one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But just because it is a light-hearted play, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t some serious themes to put across.

This modernised production is a game of contrasts in which upper-class Athenians, the mystical fairies, and dumbed-down Geordie mechanicals are pitted against each other as their stories are drawn together across one moonlit evening.

The adventure begins with Hermia (Kirsty Hensleigh), who will not submit to her father Egeus’ (Dan Lyst) demand to marry Demetrius (Dan Thomassen). While Hermia and Lysander (Sam Murray) run away together, the mechanicals (complete with regional accents), lead by Quince (Sophie Murray), start planning a play to perform at the wedding of Duke Theseus of Athens (Joe Bennett) and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (Bea Barnes).

In a parallel plot-line, Oberon, king of the fairies (Fynn Riseborough), decides to punish his queen Titania (Amy Barrett) for disobedience in a sharp-tonged exchange. He sets his Puck (Courtney Swain) to concoct a love juice that, when applied to the eyelids of a sleeping person, will make his queen fall in love with the first living thing she sees.

The cast of Midsummer Night's Dream. Pictures by Will Larkin

The cast of Midsummer Night's Dream. Pictures by Will Larkin

As the four lovers venture into the same woods, Oberon and Puck watch Helena (Ella Paul) and Demetrius have an argument and the king orders his fairy to spread some of the juice on the eyelids of the young Athenian man. Instead, Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius and administers the juice to the wrong man – this is when all the disruption begins.

Fortunately by the end of the night, all of the magic is restored and lovers, now in their rightful pairings, head to the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta.

This is when the mechanicals get their chance to perform in front of the Duke and his court. The climax of the play sees a hilarious exchange between Pyramus and Thisbe, which provides great comedic value to the court and the audience.

The student’s adaption of the Bard’s famous play has moments of hilarity, rowdiness and even some slightly raunchy scenes.

Courtney Swain (Puck) in Midsummer Night's Dream. Pictures by Will Larkin

Courtney Swain (Puck) in Midsummer Night's Dream. Pictures by Will Larkin

The directorial team has crafted a modern vibe for this Midsummer that is both cheeky and memorable and is one of the funniest versions of the play I’ve seen produced.

There’s a very clear chorus of strong performances, with not a weak link among them. The use of music is laced throughout, with a recurring musical theme on a sole live guitar – played by Dan Lyst – which works very well.

There’s also strong direction. It is very clear that a lot of hard work has been put in by the students and the team to make sure they are thinking carefully about each line they present and, more importantly, how each character is distinctive, particularly among the three groups.

Take Helena, for example, deftly portrayed with a stiff upper lip by Ella Paul. She’s the poor sop in the love quartet who doesn’t have anyone pining for her as she goes flapping (pun intended) through the forest. She contrasts beautifully to the smaller and more loud-mouthed Hermia, who is half her size and has a bit more gumption about her. The words ‘though she be little she be but fierce’ have never been so apt.

Kirsty Hensleigh (Hermia) and Lysander (Sam Murray) in Midsummer Night's Dream. Pictures by Will Larkin

Kirsty Hensleigh (Hermia) and Lysander (Sam Murray) in Midsummer Night's Dream. Pictures by Will Larkin

Or even Sam Murray, who is a newcomer to the high school’s stage and is more comfortably found in the band pit. His characterisation of the cherpish Lysander is wonderfully pitted against the more charming and authoritative Demetrius. It is very clear to see how he has won the love of Hermia’s father at the beginning of the play.

Throughout this production, there are some great stand-out moments for a number of actors, the vocals of Daisy Hope (Peaseblossom) were very warm and a pleasure to listen to, Matty Potts was hilarious and commanding as Bottom and really understood his role and Fynn Riseborough was very at home in his character and you could see how much he was enjoying wreaking some havoc.

My favourite performance came from Sophie Murray as Quince, she was utterly compelling and gave so much conviction to her performance. Every movement moved and line spoke was well thought-out and captivating to watch.

Another was a veteran to the Alnwick Playhouse stage, Amy Barrett. Although not a main character, her opening argument was fantastic and she knew how to command and demand attention from the audience. She’s always been a pleasure to watch on stage and I hope she takes up a career in acting in the future.

One of the final reasons why this show worked so well was the brilliance on stage was mirrored behind the scenes. The set was fairly static but there was good use of levels and the design was very inviting. The lighting design was also very sophisticated and professional, helping transport the audience into the stunning dream-like setting.

Equally, costume design, as usual, was stunning. The fairies’ outfits were particularly apt – they looked rugged but with an air of elegance to them.

The Machanicals in Midsummer Night's Dream. Pictures by Will Larkin

The Machanicals in Midsummer Night's Dream. Pictures by Will Larkin

Those involved with this production should certainly be raising a glass, the adaptation was sophisticated and a joy to watch.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues at the Alnwick Playhouse until Saturday, tickets are a bargain from just £6.

Oscar Wilson (Snout), Matt Potts (Bottom) and Issac Mills (flute) in Midsummer Night's Dream. Pictures by Will Larkin

Oscar Wilson (Snout), Matt Potts (Bottom) and Issac Mills (flute) in Midsummer Night's Dream. Pictures by Will Larkin

Matty Potts (Bottom) in Midsummer Night's Dream. Pictures by Will Larkin

Matty Potts (Bottom) in Midsummer Night's Dream. Pictures by Will Larkin

Martin Latto (Snug) in Midsummer Night's Dream. Pictures by Will Larkin

Martin Latto (Snug) in Midsummer Night's Dream. Pictures by Will Larkin