A Midsummer Night's Dream, Pleasance Theatre - Review

Emma Rice, the artistic director of the Globe Theatre, was recently quoted as saying that she feels a responsibility to address gender imbalances in Shakespeare plays. Fringe theatre companies have long been at the forefront of 'open' casting, with groups such as the Merely Players and Smooth Faced Gentlemen adopting gender-balanced or all-female productions. Of all the plays to lend itself so readily to gender fluidity and exchanges of identity, it is A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Directed by Laura Jasper, The Reversed Shakespeare Company's own production of AMND capitalises on this and in the process have produced a play that validates the necessity for non-tradtional casting.

With all the male roles played by women and  vice versa, gender dynamics that weren't necessarily obvious are very visible now. Cast in the roles of Helen and Hernia respectively, Matt Maltby and Matt McFetridge show how historically women have had little say in who they are palmed off with in marriage, whether its parents or society itself who helps choose. Their chemistry with Charlotte Mulliner (Lysander) and Cassie Webb (Demetrius) is palpable and exhibit great comic timing.

Traditionally, the Mechanicals can be relied upon for much of the play's mirth, and this production is no exception. Ailis Duff's Bottom deservedly steals the 'lion's' share of the laughs (pun intended) and delivers one of her personal best performances to date.

One cannot mention A Midsummers Night's Dream without thinking of Puck and Amy Reistma's rendition of Robin Goodfellow doesn't disappoint  – playful, eloquent, a familiar and most welcome friend. One must also mention Clancy Flynn's turn of the century lighting, which lends to the production an ethereal, magical quality ­­– fitting with the tone and spirit of the play.

In terms of fulfilling objectives, this production of AMND is a real eye-opener in showing that Shakespeare wrote about people first and foremost, rather than gender. On a less analytical note, the Reversed Shakespeare's Company's production is very entertaining and any show that can restore the belief in the magic of theatre can only be a good thing.

© Michael Davis 2016

A Midsummer Night's Dream runs at The Pleasance Theatre, London until 27th March 2016.


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