Northern Ballet returned to Milton Keynes Theatre this week with its magical production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
It’s a spectacular show in every sense. The dancing is, of course, flawless with inspired choreography from the company’s artistic director David Nixon; the music, from Mendelssohn and Brahms, played live by the NB’s own orchestra, adds real depth and substance.
The costumes are, in the real world, beautifully elegant in shades of white, black and grey and colourfully ethereal in the fairy world.
And the grand and magnificent set is a show-stopper.
The story is set in the world of 1940’s ballet. The stage – and company – are starkly dressed in black and white reflecting the austerity of post-war Britain.
A ballet company is planning a performance of Shakespeare’s romance, Romeo and Juliet, in Edinburgh and they have one last rehearsal in front of their brutally exacting artistic director Theseus (Hironao Takahashi) before catching the night-sleeper to Scotland.
Theseus plans to marry his prima ballerina Hippolyta (an emotionally raw performance by Antoinette Brooks-Daw) and demands she gives up dance. Her heartbreak causes a huge rift in their relationship.
The tangled love life between principal dancers Lysander, Hermia, Helena and Demetrius is also affecting their emotions.
At night, on the cramped train, Theseus enters a dream-world filled with colour where he is Oberon, King of the Fairies, and he sends his faithful Puck to bewitch his intended Titania and the dancers.
The production concludes with the company arriving in Scotland and all matters of the heart resolved.
Unusually for a ballet, though perhaps not for Northern Ballet, Theseus speaks to chastise his dancers during their rehearsals and the performance ends with Puck talking directly to the audience.
I’m not sure the device works, particularly as the two dancers (Takahashi and Kevin Poeung, as Puck) have such strong accents.
The three acts of the story, which gave the audience two brief intervals, breaks the flow of the narrative but there’s no way around it with such large set changes.
The Flying Scotsman is a tremendously impressive. It fills the stage at the outset and then “steams” out of the theatre.
Some characters stand out. The story’s comedy is mainly provided by the camp wardrobe master (Giuliano Contadini) who flounces and postures more grandly than a prima ballerina.
Darren Goldsmith, gives an endearing turn when he pads up to play the stage carpenter, Nick Bottom, who makes an ass of himself over his love for the leading lady.
Pippa Moore’s delightfully comic Helena performs some deft athletic manoeuvres as her slight frame is rebuffed by the muscular Demetrius (Tobias Batley) while Kevin Poeung dances as though he really has fairy wings as the sprite Puck.
It is a beautiful show to watch and rightly nominated for an Olivier.
Midsummer Night’s Dream runs until Saturday before ending its national tour at The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton next week.
For more information on Northern Ballet’s other touring productions go to northernballet.com