This performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by London based company Custom/Practice is a fast paced, well staged and highly engaging retelling of Shakespeare’s classic comedy.
The play begins in the detention room of an inner city school, where the students are asked to give a reading from the play as part of their punishment. The action then develops from the reading and carries the audience into the world of fairies and mistaken identity. As a device, this could risk being corny, but thanks to its execution, it provides a different and interesting way into a highly familiar work.
A real standout performance comes from Lanre Malaolu as Puck, the mischievous fairy and accomplice to king of the fairies Oberon (Liam Mansfield) – who anoints the eyes of the wrong Athenians with a love potion, leading to confusion, hilarity and the wrong people falling in love.
Malaolu is agile and athletic as he roams the stage observing the unfolding misfortune of key characters, Helena (Rebecca Loudon), Demetrius (Naoufal Ousellam), Lysander (Ashley Hunter) and Hermia (Clare McMahon).
The subplot involving The Mechanicals, who are rehearsing a performance of the play Pyramus and Thisbe, is well executed and highly entertaining. Lorenzo Martelli plays an excellent comic turn as the hapless Bottom the weaver who is turned into an ass by Puck.
The Mechanical’s performance at the end is a real highlight, as the players draw out all the bawdy humour and innuendo from the original text as well as embellishing it with a few contemporary references.
The strength of the cast and the quality of the choreography help to breathe new life into this well worn tale. With only eight actors in the cast, many of them double up as different characters and move between roles with ease and precision.
As part of the Almeida Festival, Custom/Practice have devised a modern and entertaining take on this much loved play which stays close to its roots but also adds a touch of contemporary theatrical flare. A fun and highly enjoyable experience.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is at The Almeida at 7.30pm 20 – 21 July, with a matinee at 3pm on 21 July. Tickets cost £15