For those unfamiliar with the plot, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a classic Shakespearean comedy. In this adaptation by the National Youth Theatre (NYT), several changes to the plot and setting have been made. The most obvious setting change was that instead of the traditional Athens of, the NYT version was set in the slightly more run-down Athens-on-Sea, a stereotypical seaside town, gone to the dogs over years of neglect. The scene was set with a hilarious modern introduction of a son harassing his mother for ice cream on the beach. However, this brief dalliance with modernity seemed no more than an afterthought as the rest of the story was carried out entirely in Shakespearean English.
Straight from the off, an atypical choice was to cast Helena, usually a female role, as a man. Jamie Foulkes was a convincing Helena who had clear chemistry with the other three lovers of the tangled love quadrangle - Lysander, Demetrius and Hermia. Oberon and Puck lurked in the background of the play. Bede Hodgkinson convinced as the authoritative fairy king, ordering his minion this way and that. I am afraid that Puck in this adaptation left a little to be desired. As opposed to the usual mischievous knave that delights in the trickery of the night, this Puck (Ella Dacres) seemed to resent the orders from on high to sow discord against the Fairy Queen and the Athenians. Her serious manner was incongruent with the light-hearted nature of the rest of the production. Speaking of jarring, the cast regularly broke into well-choreographed dance, accompanied by rhythmic thumping music. Although I have no objection to the inclusion of dance in a play, the music was often so loud that it and obscured dialogue, not to mention the tendency of the dance segments to suddenly appear without warning.
A key part of any successful Midsummer Night’s Dream hinges on the casting of Bottom. The deluded egomaniac that makes Bottom so much fun to watch, as well as, I imagine, play, was wonderfully embodied by Jemima Mayala. The rest of the of the Athenian Actors Guild were classically comic. I have never before seen such a well-built and smooth-moving Wall as that provided by Jordan Ford Silver.
Overall, I feel that this was a fresh, modern and well-executed adaptation. If only they had provided a more playful Puck and danced a little less, I would have enjoyed it a lot more.