Review: Northern Rep present A Midsummer Night’s Dream @ Great Northern Warehouse, Manchester

Northern Rep confirm that Shakespearean plays and clubbing are worlds apart – and aren’t easy to merge into a singular whole.

That’s why if you’re seeking an orthodox theatre experience, this interpretation probably isn’t what you’re looking for.

However, if you’ve ever longed to be on stage dancing with the cast, this rendition is likely just what the doctor ordered.

William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Thomas Moore and Thea Beyleveld, is showing at Northern Rep’s new repertory theatre in Manchester’s Great Northern Warehouse until next month.

Rather unusually, the venue has no seats and no stage.

It is instead just an open floor with no more than a faint line drawn between actor and audience member.

This troupe’s version of the play focuses solely on the fairies, their world, and the drama between Helena (Jessica Noonan), Hermia (Ruth Murray), Lysander (Sarah Maher) and Demetrius (Adam Urey).

The play starts with Act II, leaving out some character build up and initial context.

Therefore it’s probably beneficial that audience members have some understanding of the play before watching this production.

This unique reworking – teamed with the fact that background music often overrides the voices of more softly spoken actors – does make comprehension slightly difficult at times.  

At the beginning of Act III, a parade of actors dressed for a hen night storm the stage with an inflatable phallus, before attempting to get the audience dancing.

While in theory this could work, it’s also prone to moments of awkwardness when the volunteers are scarce.

Over time it does become clear that the hen party is a clever reinterpretation of the craftsmen who organise a play in the original script.

Bottom (Riana Duce), a crowd favourite who is the embodiment of the play’s comedy, is stripped of all humour and interestingly used as a sexual prop for the fairy queen Titania (Nicole Evans).

While there’s something hit and miss about this change, it is certainly refreshing to see the traditionally male characters Bottom and Lysander played by female actors.

Another nice touch is having the cast scrolling on their smartphones when they were being aloof in an innovative way of integrating Shakespeare and the modern age.

The cast seem to thrive on the fact that the audience don’t know when the next twist and turn will come from.

It ultimately makes for a completely unique experience that you can’t find anywhere else in Manchester.

Overall, the cast and crew should be commanded for taking a brave leap away from a plot that has been told so many times since the 16th century. 

*Northern Rep’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs until April 15.

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