It’s not often that you watch Shakespeare and fall about laughing from beginning to end.
Starting with a bit of stand-up, moving on to a food fight, and ending with a beer-soaked techie delivering the closing speech (with snippets of punk, ska and rock thrown into the mix) Filter Theatre’s anarchic, subversive and utterly brilliant A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes some beating.
The riotous production has returned to London’s Lyric Hammersmith for a limited run. It’s eye-wateringly, hysterically funny – and it’s not often you can say that about the Bard, even when watching his famous comedies.
Purists (of which there were two sitting behind me) won’t approve. Of course they won’t. It’s loud, filthy, irreverent and, occasionally, fantastically puerile. You’d expect nothing less from an experimental theatre company with a reputation to uphold.
A group of teens on a school trip had earnestly brought their copies of MND. This production rewrites the script and is likely to have had more impact with the students than any number of viewings or readings of traditional versions.
All Shakespeare’s plays have been done to death, with the popular works turning up on a stage or screen near you with a, ho-hum, dull frequency. But there are some directors and producers who think out of the box and come up with an adaptation that is original, imaginative and unique.
Filter’s chaotic, very physical and distinctive interpretation of a story steeped in fairies, mystique and romance makes you wonder if they’ve been drinking too much of the magical elixir Oberon has administered to his headstrong wife, Titania by a most unlikely of Pucks.
Two years ago Hiraeth Productions stunned audiences with a sensational and brutal retelling of Hamlet that was set in a Catagory A Liverpool prison. With a mix of modern-day language and Shakespearean verse this was visceral and unforgettable drama at its best.
Filter’s totally bonkers MND will also fire imaginations. If you’re going to engage today’s youth in the work of a poet who is 400 years dead then this is the way to do it. Lob them a few mini doughnuts, add a hapless super hero, turn the amateur players into a rock band called The Mechanicals and throw in a quick laser fight from a computer game.
Ed Gaughan, who plays The Mechanicals director, Peter Quince, comes on to introduce the show with five minutes of comedy stand-up. With a rapid-fire broad Irish accent he sounded, at times, like he was commentating on the 2.30pm at Leopardstown but the patter was expertly delivered with the timing of a true comic.
He tempted the audience with a super-sized carrot. A very famous actor would be making a guest appearance as Bottom. Ooh, we got excited….then we got dispirited….and then we cheered. This is the sort of earthy production that Shakespeare’s groundlings audiences would have loved. You can’t beat a bit of audience participation.
Halfway through, as mismatched and intoxicated lovers Hermia, Lysander, Helena and Demetrius battle over who loves whom, there erupts an almighty bunfight. Bread rolls, crisps, and a few odd mini doughnuts are thrown at each other and then at the audience and, of course, all hell breaks loose.
Watching the pandemonium with childish relish is the invisible king of the fairies, Oberon (bespectacled Jonathan Broadbent dressed in blue Lycra, snorting an inhaler and guzzling Fosters) and the mischievous Puck (a bearded Ferdy Roberts, looking like a hipster off a fashion shoot but acting delightfully malevolent).
Andrew Buckley’s Bottom is the best. No silly tail or ears, he keeps his Parka on and zipped throughout with his clip-clop footsteps provided by Puck’s coconuts. Buckley seemingly falls into the part of The Bard’s asinine lover who seduces a bewitched Titania (Cat Simmons, a feisty and fearsome Goth fairy queen) but there’s method in this midsummer madness.
One of the best one-liners that Shakespeare never wrote comes at its last gasp as Puck, now the Lyric’s back-stage grunt, Robin Goodfellow, walks onto a devastated stage that’s littered with food, ketchup and gunk, with props overturned.
I won’t spoil it. Get yourself along to the Lyric and enjoy a night of madness. You’ll wish this Midsummer Night won’t ever end.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at the Lyric Hammersmith until March 19.
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Filter Theatre’s anarchic, subversive and utterly brilliant A Midsummer Night’s Dream returns to the Lyric Hammersmith. Original, imaginative, unique, this is Shakespeare at its hysterical best. A riot from beginning to end.