Photo: Scott Rylander
I must have seen A Midsummer Night’s Dream fifty times. And over the years that has taken in some pretty memorable Bottoms, including Desmond Barrit, Ian Talbot and Bernard Bresslaw among many others. Never, however, have I seen Bottom played with the exuberance, charisma and energy that Victoria Blunt brings to the role. She is variously gleeful, shy, sad, silly, sardonic, wondrous, knowing, rueful, childlike, sexy and she has fun with every single word. I especially liked the way she tumbles cheerfully into bed with Titania, does suggestive things with her ass’s head and flirts with audience members so that everyone in the room feels special. She has an engaging way of jumping – literally – into situations too. It’s a marvellous performance and I suspect I shall judge every Bottom I see in the future against it.
The whole production (ably directed by Paul Hart) is so thoughtfully colourful and original that it’s hard to stop smiling. My face was aching with delighted beaming at the end of the two hours that it runs. Eva Feiler’s Puck is like a naughty child playing with dolls and messing things up and she is terrific as terrified Snug The Joiner thrust, and shaking with stage fright, into his role as Lion. Tyrone Huntley, as Lysander (and ensemble parts) can convey as much with a grimace or grin as some other actors can only with a whole page of words. And anyone who saw him has Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar at Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park knows about his astonishingly expressive and very beautiful singing voice.
Although this isn’t a musical version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, most of this talented company are also on-stage musicians and there are several songs to complement Shakespeare.
Emma McDonald as Titania/Hippolyta for instance finds compelling queenly gravitas as the former even when she’s succumbing to her baser instincts with Bottom. She plays Hippolyta as a rather diffident Spaniard who twice runs off stage in anger at Theseus’s more dictatorially insensitive remarks. And she plays saxophone on stage just as Lillie Flynn who’s excellent as the really distraught Helena with hay fever also plays flute, guitar and sings beautifully.
All the action is often integrated with music created by the cast who also provide sound effects and mood. So good at it are they could probably make a reasonable living as a dance band. The moment when they all burst into Blue Moon is unforgettable.
The performance I saw was one of two in the run integrally signed in BSL by Lixi Chivas and Ana Becker. They become part of the cast on stage often being a sort of alter ego to a character, signing words and sharing roles. Sophie Stone, an impressively moving Hermia communicates partly in sign language and partly in words and when Huntley as Lysander wants to be intimate or private with her he signs too. It’s all very intelligent, sensitive and inclusive.
It is also one of the funniest Dreams I’ve seen in a while. I shall treasure the moment when an exasperated Oberon (Jamie Satterthwaite – good) has to help a very wimpish Puck down from the scaffolding or when Joey Hickman hilariously absurd as Flute the Bellows Mender (he also plays Demetrius) races back to the piano for the final ensemble number.
Photo: Scott Rylander