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Review: The hilarious and inventive A Midsummer Night's Dream, Lyric Hammersmith

Jonathan Broadbent as Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Tristram Kenton
Jonathan Broadbent as Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Tristram Kenton

From the moment Peter Quince (Ed Gaughan) steps out from behind the curtain and says 'you'll have a great evening but it probably won't be this one' you know this isn't going to be A Midsummer's Night's Dream like you've seen it before.

Filter Theatre has added its own play within the play (within the play - "it's meta"), Peter Quince and the mechanicals are re-imagined as a house band but with Bottom otherwise occupied, a replacement has to be found. 

The key scenes of Shakespeare's story of love, jealousy and fairies are extracted and performed with disregard to the fourth wall, without any pretence that it is real and with a liberal sprinkling of popular references and ad-libbing.

Oberon (Jonathan Broadbent) is a Lycra clad, asthmatic super hero or super villain depending on his mood. He doesn't hide his in-vain attempts to fly although he does come up with one rather amusing solution.

Puck (Ferdy Roberts) is dressed as a Lyric Theatre handyman with a tool belt in which he also keeps equipment for sound effects. He likes nothing better than an excuse to take the weight off and swig from a can of Fosters.

When the objects of the four lovers affections get confused by Oberon's scheming and Puck's mistakes the wooing takes on a comically seductive tone; Demetrius (Hammed Animashaun) sings to Helena (Clare Dunne) soul-style complete with hip-thrusting dance moves.

And when the male love rivals fight it is done brillianlyt in the style of an old computer game Oberon and Puck on the sidelines sitting in camping chairs eating sandwiches and drinking beer as if enjoying a sporting event. When the women join in food becomes the weapon and no one is left out of the fight.

This is a production of high energy, barely-contained chaos, slap-stick and mess and it is peppered with jewels of comic and inventive moments. The genius is that some of these moments you can't imagine not being included in Shakespeare's productions - Bottom checking to see if he's hung like a donkey, for example - while others are purely contemporary additions.

Purists will probably bristle but for everyone else - from teens upwards -  it is just great fun and very, very funny, in fact I can't remember the last time I laughed quite that hard and quite that consistently in the theatre. Go and see it and take (older) kids. It is officially an hour and 45 minutess  - although that inevitably changes depending on how much ad-libbing the cast do - a 'that isn't helping madam' was directed at me for laughing in anticipation of a punchline.

It is on at the Lyric Hammersmith until March 19 and I'm giving it five stars.

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