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There’s always something special about Shakespeare in the round, and the intimacy of the Dukes theatre proved a great venue for this classic. I never really go to the theatre much, but I thought a bit of high culture is probably overdue after plenty of drunken evenings of embarrassment in Sugar. This particular production was the 21st annual student performance; the cast and crew were all BA honours Drama students at the University of Cumbria.
Admittedly, the am-dram feel of the production was hard to shake, especially at the beginning, but overall the performance was professional and enjoyable. The abilities of the actors did vary but the core cast members were all impressive and held characters well.
As it was set in the round, the set was minimal; only two tree stumps and a wooden garden fixture draped in flowers which were used effectively to signal different locations. An especially nice touch was the use of fairy lights on the ceiling to symbolise stars and leaves around the perimeter of the stage. If you don’t know, a lot of the play takes place in the woods, so the set was simple enough not to be distracting, but substantial enough to create a woodland effect.
The one thing that this production did well was to present the play for what it is; a comedy. Reading the story at school never really did justice to the fact that there are genuinely funny parts to a lot of Shakespeare’s work. In this case the play that takes place within the play (confusing I know) had everyone in stiches. If you struggle with the concept of there being a play in the play, then it’ll be difficult to explain how the actors in the play within the play are supposed to be terrible at acting, but the actors playing those actors played them really well. In summary, the cast expertly displayed terrible acting (intentionally). Although this is only an aside, it actually ended up stealing the show. Someone plays a wall, which is a speaking part; enough said.
There are certain practical difficulties with putting on a production of A Mid-Summer Nights Dream, for one, half way through, one of the characters’ (called Bottom) head is transformed into that of a donkey by the assistant of the king of the fairies, seemingly for the sole purpose to make loads of “ass” gags. So much for high culture. Similarly, the juice from a flower is poured into the eyes of sleeping victims. Both difficulties were overcome effectively, the former with donkey ears and nose, the latter with little prop flowers.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and some members of the cast clearly have a lot of talent. It’s odd to see a play that was written so long ago that still has the power to make an audience laugh as much as this production did. Yeah it does rely on “ass” jokes and a male actor playing a male actor playing a woman (badly), but it is funny nonetheless