Progress Theatre - A Midsummer Night's Dream
16th to 28th July 2007.
From the Newbury Weekly News.
Abbey ruins a dream location
Progress Theatre: A Midsummer Night's Dream, at the Abbey Ruins, Reading, from Monday, July 16 to Saturday, July 28
A Midsummer Night's Dream is usually dated as 1595 and numerous theories abound to its theatrical purpose. However, its easy themes and imagery suggest that it may have been written as a wedding piece or possibly to celebrate the Feast of St John under Queen Elizabeth's patronage.
Foremost a comedy, it follows four 'foolish mortals' and erstwhile lovers, Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius and Helena in their various romantic endeavours, moving the action between the gardens of the Duke's Palace in Athens and a forest nearby. In turn, they find themselves subjected to playful manipulation in the spirited and wild domain of Oberon and his magical allies.
Even Titania, Oberon's estranged Queen, is not spared and under Puck's influence falls in love with Bottom the weaver who is too dim-witted and overconfident to realise his head has been substituted for that of an ass. It is also a good opportunity for further wordplay.
If you look at A Midsummer Night's Dream as a simple comedy, it is not necessary or imperative to fully grasp the plot or dig deep for hidden meanings. Sure, they are there but it is not important to enjoy this wonderful production. The tale serves merely as a framework to control the four individual stories. For this reason simplicity and orderly language makes it one of the funnier and most accessible of Shakespeare's works.
There are fine performances throughout Progress's staging yet the scenes that stand out were those with John Goodman's wildly enthusiastic Nick Bottom and Taz Burns' fiery Puck. As Oberon's malicious jester, Puck, is probably the closest there is to a protagonist as the character drives the action either through desire or through error. Although the play divides its action across all characters, Puck and Bottom must be the most satisfying roles to play.
However if you are in the market for group dynamics, look no further than the 'Mechanicals', that ramshackle bunch of amateurs who act out their play Pyramus and Thisbe as part of the Theseus and Hippolyta marriage celebration. A diverting contrast to the stuffed shirts of Philostrate's Athenian milieu and an excellent opportunity in the closing stages to stir the audience both on and off stage.
A Midsummer Night's Dream is often the choice for outdoor productions and the Abbey Ruins on a balmy summer night being one of the finest backdrops. Moreover, the staging this year took an 'end-on' approach, that according to Director Christine Moran, could 'easily represent both the palace garden and the forest'. Overall, perfectly simple staging that allows 'the action to move seamlessly between scenes'. It worked extremely well and avoided the need for distracting scene changes.
Finally it's also probably worth noting that there was a distinct freshness to the cast with many actors appearing for the first time in a Progress production no doubt guaranteeing an industrious and satisfying future for the company