The Royal Shakespeare Company have set out on an unprecedented touring performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, collaborating with local amateur actors across the country for the first time in the company’s history. For the Nottingham leg, Hucknall’s Lovelace Theatre Group were cast as Shakespeare’s rude mechanicals, helping bring Shakespeare 400 celebrations further up the UK’s literary map and reminding us of how deservedly Nottingham wears it’s UNESCO City of Literature status.
With Quince’s farcical play-within-a-play underpinning the plot, A Midsummer Night’s Dream lends itself graciously to the project but even so, it was the Lovelace troupe’s farce-free performance that got the slapstick comedy bouncing off the walls of Nottingham’s Theatre Royal.
Becky Morris and Daniel Knight were an exceptionally good Bottom and Flute. With effortless charisma, they truly made the characters their own, though without over-hamming the local thing. I think there was just the one mention of Nottinghamshire’s most prolific colloquialism ‘duck’. (Dolly Parton, Angelina Jolie – your attempts at the Midlands drawl have a lot to answer for.)
There was no need to play to their fellows in the audience because their acting spoke for itself. The Lovelace players have been nationally praised and will be starring in BBC One documentary Best Bottom’s in the Land.
The production didn’t leave it’s ambitiousness at it’s new recruits either. Set in what appeared to be a 1940s war-torn Britain, the set was far cry from the dripping woodland canopy that would have distracted us from any visible seams. There wasn’t really anything to distinguish the court from the forest set. Instead, the stage was dark and derelict, with a piano and live jazz band cast in shadow. Visually it could have felt a little stark, but the lighting made colours seem deeply saturated, adding to the overall feeling of hypersensitivity. Equally, taking us to the blitzed landscape the time of crisis that the nation is so proud of raising itself from, handed the audience a clear and unifying context.
The performance certainly was dreamlike, but it was a dream that you wouldn’t sleep particularly soundly through. The play’s magic was a darker kind, a delirious, drug-induced escapism which matched the sometime dangerous, sometimes benevolent temperaments of the fairy King and Queen.
Oberon and Titania were bewitchingly alien characters compared to their mortal counterparts. Their scenes had a beatnik jazz aesthetic that put them ahead of the stuffy colonial Britain that the young ones were outgrowing. Ayesha Darker’s sing-song voice was beautiful, though, after making a couple of duff dance moves, I don’t think Chu Omambala quite lived up to be the cool-cat that his chest-baring, white suit demanded him to be.
Lucy Ellison made a memorable Puck. She was cute and over-enthusiastic in her service to Oberon, but as she nimbly orchestrated mischief around the stage and reeled off poetic lines, it was clear who was the brains of the outfit.
There were some slightly touch-and-go musical interludes that were saved for me by the humorous descriptions given by the theatre’s audio-visual aids, such as ‘Smooth Trumpet solo’ and ‘jazzy flute’. More so, the magic of the fairies and school children brought light and colour into the show, as we were handed back to the human realm and into a brave new world.