A Midsummer Night’s Dream

CHLOE COLEMAN and LEYLA LESNIAREK-HAMID aren’t convinced by this twenties take on Shakespeare’s classic.

A Midsummer Nights Dream bottom chloe coleman david tremain leyla lesniarek-hamid Newnham Shakespeare

Newnham College, 5pm, Wed 9th – Sat 12th Oct, £8

A Midsummer Night’s Dream isn’t a play you’d expect to see as we near mid-October. Chilly winds replace summer’s balmy nights, and as a result outdoor theatre is perhaps not as appealing.

Nevertheless, the production by the Newnham Anonymous Players was certainly a bold attempt to restage a Shakespearean classic. The cast were kitted out in a variety of flapper-esque costumes, complete with your typical fringes and frills. The magical woods of this classic comedy were transformed into a supposed jazz club in which we were treated to (real!) cocktails and olives.

The roaring twenties, however, did not stretch much further than this. As one may expect, the original dialogue was maintained, but no effort had been made to truly marry it to the new era – instead, Renaissance English and 20s dress seemed to exist awkwardly alongside each other. Against this scenario a too-long and slightly gratuitous Charleston dance routine seemed to baffle rather than entertain the audience, making the “Jazz club” innovation feel a little forced. These scenes could have been improved considerably had the music been just a little bit louder, as that would have made the dance hall atmosphere really ignite.

A few scenes later, and the jazz club is forgotten as fresh hay is sprinkled on the sleeping lovers for no apparent reason. But hey, maybe we’re missing some very important symbolism here.

The production as a whole felt a little tentative. Despite brimming with creative and original aims, they were never fully realised. One of the things that did work was the way in which from the very beginning, all the cast were in character – we were all wedding guests, ushered through the Plodge by impeccably polite maids to the first location. The variety of venues was a strength of this production, as the cast utilised three different spaces within the grounds of Newnham College. This culminated in a wedding scene in the gardens itself – while standing in the cold wind didn’t really appeal, it was testament to the professionalism of the cast that they could incorporate falling umbrellas into the festivities with such ease.

The acting was what stood out in this performance. In general, the entire cast was pretty strong, but our commendations certainly have to go David Tremain as Bottom. Tremain’s comic timing, elegance and plain likeability brought the subplot of the mechanicals into the foreground, although wins the award for the worst ass costume we’ve ever seen – this is perhaps an occasion where less certainly isn’t more.

Alys Williams warmed into her role as a flirty, tipsy and desperate Helena – this is a time when the alcohol-fueled twenties theme really went down well. The famous love quadrangle is transformed into a boozy, drink-throwing bar brawl (splash warning for the front row…), and it is in these high-energy scenes that the play really comes alive.

We came away from A Midsummer Night’s Dream having enjoyed an entertaining evening, but we couldn’t shake the feeling that the director had big, innovative plans for this production which never fully came into being. The potential was definitely there, but it didn’t seem to take the necessary risks to stop it from being just another Shakespeare play transposed into another era.