What better way to spend a dreadful Wednesday morning (hi, flaming June, nice to see you … not) other than curled up on the sofa, catching up on the BBC’s new production of Will Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Ok, so it’s just the first few seconds in and I’m already as confused as hell.
John Hannah (Theseus) is some kind of neo-Nazi dictator, set to marry Hippolyta Lector, who’s wheeled in resplendent in straight jacket and face mask, followed shortly by
Hermoine Hermia and Harry Potter Lysander who’s filched (just me? Ok) her from Demetrius.
Comparisons with Dr.Who are inevitable but there were no Daleks, Cybermen or long woolly scarves to be seen, just a few Death Star Stormtroopers and tons of fairy dust. How much fun is Russell T Davies having? Can I have his job, please?
It’s mental, as Ron Weasley would say - and I was absolutely hooked. I love a good mash up when it’s this well written (by both Will and Russell), and full of belly laughs and excitement.
Having never seen nor read the original, I (unlike the purists) was completely open to whatever Davies threw into this. Subsequently, I enjoyed the nods to pop culture: A Comedy of Errors on the pub TV, with the You’ve Been Framed theme tune; Matt Lucas’s Bottom squeal “I’m a Lady”, and whatever else might be different - such as, not having lovelorn women threaten to kill themselves over some bloke. Well done, that man!
It’s a riot of colour and energy, with the cast outshining the special effects. Charismatic, rascally Oberon (Nonso Anozie), Kate Kennedy’s ditzy Helena and the aforementioned Matt Lucas - is there anything he cannot do - were particular highlights, but Paapa Essiedu (Demetrius) was captivating whenever he appeared, as was the glorious Maxine Peake as Titania and mischievous Puck (Hiran Abeysekera). I could go on. I will. Bernard Cribbens! Richard Wilson! Oh, the joy.
The modern tone worked so well with Shakespeare’s language, I hope schools show this to their English classes, instead of the mindless drivel they usually show in the run up to a school holiday. Brought up as they are on the Potter, Marvel and Buffy universes, this will serve students as a fine introduction to The Bard.
Seriously, purists, there are plenty of traditional productions you can see. So why not take a chance to enjoy something for what it is, rather than what you expect it to be? Expand your horizons, embrace the differences. It’s what these productions do - makes people like me seek out the originals, knowing we’re going to understand them a whole lot more.
This was an utterly delightful, hilarious, pacey ninety minutes of pure escapism. And, they finished with dancing! I swear they were doing The Slosh at one point. Director David Kerr must’ve gone to Butlins too.