"Great atmosphere but mediocre performances"
by Laura Kressly for remotegoat on 07/08/14

The rooftop of this unassuming building in Shoreditch is covered with a large open tent, decorated with hippy and Moroccan décor, and chairs and draped pallets arranged in a large circle. Underneath this building is the original site of The Curtain theatre, one of Elizabethan theatres of London. The actors, rather than hiding backstage, chat and rehearse amongst the audience. Rather than feeling amateur, it evokes the casualness of a summer night with friends and the Elizabethan attitude towards theatre. The actors are costumed in a hodgepodge of items that evoke period costume, but remain contemporary and neutral. They are barefoot.

One of the defining features of this production is the music. Created by actor-musos on stage, the music is an original, company-created score that makes the world of this production incredibly atmospheric. Whilst not completely constant, it is wisely used to drive the action without being overbearing. The musicians are clearly skilled performers.

Unfortunately, their acting is generally less skillful. Of the cast of twelve, two or three stood out who were consistently good. Benjamin Blyth (Titania/Theseus), Danielle Larose (Oberon/Hippolyta) and Luke Shepherd (Demetrius) all had consistently high energy and vocal volume as well as speaking Shakespeare’s verse properly, without lots of pauses and breaking up the lines. Consequently, they captured the nuances of the language. These three also had a natural sense for comic timing, which is crucial in Shakespeare’s comedies. The rest of the cast were rather inconsistent, which is unsurprising given that many London-based actors relocate to Edinburgh for the summer. They seemed to take at least a scene to warm up and remember how to perform, which made the first half quite slow.

There were numerous interesting directorial decisions from director Benjamin Blyth. The use of the music was excellent. Cutting the exposition where Hermia’s father goes to Theseus regarding her refusal to marry Demetrius and the duke’s subsequent decree that Hermia must, “fit your fancies to your father’s will; or else the law of Athens yields you up…to death, or to a vow of single life” completely removed the point of the story. Whist gender reversing Titania and Oberon worked incredibly well, the reason for doing so was unclear, even with programme notes. Using the 1909 silent film production footage, whilst a lovely historical footnote, did not contribute to the esthetic or purpose of the event. The fairies had some wonderful movement choreography that the lovers incorporated later on in the play, but additional sequences could have been used to further enhance the uniqueness of the production. There was minimal direct address, which was a shame considering the audience was in the round and lit. Puck (Luke Gray) used in regularly, but no one else did.

Overall, the atmosphere was relaxed and enjoyable, there were some excellent moments, wonderful music and some good performances but this production had plenty of potential that it did not quite achieve.

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