Alexandra Palace's Basement Is The Real Star Of Midsummer Night's Dream
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Alexandra Palace is a glorious and historic building with many facets. There's more to it than an ice rink for kids' birthday parties and gigs for bands who are too big for Brixton, yet not big enough for the O2.
Recently the venue has been dipping its toes into the world of theatre. First it reopened its abandoned theatre, and now it's invited immersive theatre purveyors RIFT to put on a production of Midsummer Night's Dream in its basement — a space that hasn't been open to the public in over 60 years.
Just being in the space is a dream in its own right. It's the star of the play as we wander from room to room following the action. The play does well to wrestle our attention away from the surroundings and onto the theatricals. The actors all contribute to this cause, but even more important is the inventive staging, especially when the fairies get involved. They're dark creatures — this incarnation of Puck wouldn't look amiss in a 90s Aphex Twin video, as his painfully close-up face is projected on a vertical screen.
If there is an actor who shines through the setting, it's Phoebe Naughton as Helena. Initially she plays the role for laughs — and gets them. But when she believes the other young lovers have conspired to tease her, the performance turns into one with real pathos, and the earlier comedy retrospectively becomes a device to shield her vulnerability.
The staging is by no means perfect. Initially it seems like Shakespeare's yarn will be skilfully interwoven with a framing device focusing on the BBC's first night of broadcast in the 1930s. After five minutes of Egeus being Hermia's agent rather than her father, this pretence is dropped. It's as though the director gave up after getting to the end of the first scene, huffing: 'This is too much like hard work.' The thread is picked up again during the play's finale, but by then it's too little too late.
However even this failure has its own bright spots. The props mirror those that would've been around at the advent of television, such as beautifully clunky BBC cameras, and whirring bulky machines. It serves as a reminder of the lived-in history of Alexandra Palace.
RIFT present Midsummer Night's Dream, Alexandra Palace, Alexandra Palace Way, N22 7AY. Tickets £23-£28.50, until 28 September 2019.
Last Updated 06 September 2019