The rather wordy title says it all. Shakesapeare’s tale of faeries, sprites and magic has been transported to The Big Easy for a night of voodoo magic, mysticism and Mardi Gras.
It’s surprising that it hasn’t been done before because New Orleans’ most famous witch queen, Marie Laveau, is a shoo-in for Titania.
Ruby In The Dust has given The Dream a heady shot of Deep South rhythm ‘n’ blues and a smattering of jazz before setting The Bard’s most famous tale in a steamy Louisiana bayou. A Midsummer Night’s Dream In New Orleans is Tennessee Williams meets Shakespeare.
The speeches are slowly drawled, the temperature is hot (very authentically reproduced by the swelter Above The Arts Theatre, in London’s Off-West End district) and the performances sizzle.
The Dream’s most famous sprite, Puck, is rockin’ a Baron Samedi look. Sid Phoenix, as the mischievous elf, growls his lines with a surly insolence that comes from a life and death of drinking too much rum and smoking too many fine Cuban cigars.
The eyes aren’t so much bloodshot as fiery red and the rest of skeletal make-up is traditionally other-worldly.
Here’s a memorable Puck and confidently played. He’s arrogant, cocky and devilish and such a standout character that he almost dominates the production.
But for all his swagger he fears the arrival of other sprites, lost souls who take the occasion of, in this version at least, rising from the dead during Mardi Gras’s magical night. The threat of a zombie invasion is never far from his mind. This is the home of voodoo after all.
Most productions of The Dream that I’ve seen use the same actor as the earthly king, Theseus, and his faerie counterpart, Oberon.
But director, Linnie Reedman, has played a blinder by casting the notable David Monteith (recently with Lenny Henry in Fences) as Oberon and he gives a masterful and thoroughly enjoyable turn as the vengeful king.
He forms two outstanding double acts, firstly with his Puck, and then with the intoxicating Silvana Maimone as Titania/ Hippolyta (with a sideline as Marie).
The mystical royal pair, seen snorting a little something to make Midsummer go with a bang, are a perfect fit, both powerful, magical and with incendiary tempers. They are the embodiment of New Orleans’ rich French/Creole history.
But at the heart of this story is love – won, lost and confused – by two pairs of young lovers.
The ladies Hermia (Samantha Louise Clark) and Helena (EJ Martin) sound as though they’ve just stepped out of Streetcar Named Desire. Their southern-belle accents are so pronounced when they lose their tempers that it’s difficult to understand them.
But they give passionate and tempestuous performances especially in the key cat-fight scene.
The boys, Jonathan Ajayi’s romantic strolling minstrel Lysander, and Ruari Cannon as a Gatsby-esque Demetrius, also acquit themselves well in what, at times, become very physically demanding roles.
Matthew Woodyatt makes an impressive Bottom the Mechanical amateur thespian but less so as Titania’s enchanted ass.
This “play with music” version gives the company an opportunity to throw in some heady tunes though they occasionally sit uneasy in the story.
There are just seven smouldering songs, from the likes of Dr John, Randy Newman and Louis Armstrong, but I’d have liked a few more – why set the story in a city renowned for its music if you’re not going to exploit the location?
Just like New Orleans’ famous funeral processions the foot-tapping jazz didn’t really arrive until the finale, as a footnote to a luurvely night’s entertainment.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream In New Orleans plays Above The Arts Theatre until August 30.
A Midsummer Night's Dream In New Orleans
The heady magic of Mardi Gras is the setting for Ruby In The Dust’s sultry performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream In New Orleans that transports the faerie romance to the home of voodoo.