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South Wales Argos
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
A Mappa Mundi/Torch Theatre/Theatr Mwldan co-production
Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea, October 26, 2012
The Bard of Avon meets sitcom stylists Perry and Croft in this beguiling and utterly magical production performed by Mappa Mundi, a company renowned for its irreverent and adventurous approach to the classics.
Director Peter Doran has transplanted Shakespeare’s timeless tale of what ensues when the inhabitants of the fairy kingdom manipulate the lives and loves of mere mortals to the era of the Second World War – 1944, to be precise – which paves the way for a host of WWII references, period detail and the class differences which delineated this most turbulent of times before society changed in the post-war era.
A twelve-strong cast, led by Richard Nichols(Theseus/Oberon)and Lynne Seymour (Hippolyta/Titania), tackle the challenge of breathing life into some of Shakespeare’s most memorable characters and it is clear that they relish the opportunity to render the dialogue and the narrative as accessible and engaging as they possibly can. Lisa Zahra, Joanna Simpkins, Jack Brown and Sam Jones – who portray Hermia, Helen, Lysander(played here as a drawling American GI)and Demetrius – fare brilliantly as the quartet of star-crossed lovers whose respective romances are thrown into disarray after falling under the mischievous spell conceived by Oberon.
It is undoubtedly Puck(alternatively known as Robin Goodfellow), the mercurial sprite who carries out Oberon’s bidding, who steals the show whenever he appears: Francois Pandolfo’s performance as the fleet-footed fairy is masterly, transforming the character into a cross between Russell Brand, Johnny Depp and Chaplin.
The Rude Mechanicals – Matthew Bulgo(Peter Quince), Liam Tobin(Bottom), Lloyd Grayshon (Snug), Llinos Mai(Snout)and James Peake(Flute) – provide the comic interludes as a disparate group of characters who could have stepped straight out of an episode of Dad’s Army: together, they comprise a group of strolling players known here as the St Athen’s Samateur Dramatic and Operatic Society(S.A.A.D.O.S for short), and their antics during the climactic play within a play – Pyramus and Thisbe, staged to celbrate the wedding between Hippolyta and Theseus – is a master class in no-holds-barred comedic timing and energy.
Deisgner Sean Crowley’s beautifully designed set – strengthened still further by the video design created by Lloyd Grayshon – underpins the aura of other-worldliness epitomised by the fairy kingdom and also the more down-to-earth settings inhabited by the mortals, while Peter Knight’s extraordinarily absorbing and at times unsettling soundscape sets the seal on what is a massively successful production on a multitude of levels.
We are even treated to a rousing Flanagan and Allen tribute number at the climax of the play which is in keeping with the period and which is juxtaposed with the horrors of the conflict to come.
Another tremendously fine addition to Mappa Mundi’s canon of work, and one which will linger in the memories of theatregoers for many years to come.