A Funny and Fantastical Take on A Midsummer Night's Dream

But Lyric's production won't help those who find Shakespeare confusing, says Liz Vercoe

Pity any diligent student who turns up at the Lyric clutching a text of William Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream and is spotted by a member of the Filter Theatre Group's cast. He or she should be prepared for a great deal of holding of sides in mirth at their innocent enthusiasm.

For, in 90 minutes, rather than the usual two to three hours, this production gives you the merest essence of Shakespeare in a play originally created by Filter, working with the Lyric's Artistic Director Sean Holmes, in just nine days of rehearsal, for the 2011 Latitude Festival. They would have been happy with their pop and rock neighbours. The notes in the programme liken the group to a band, even down to being deeply rooted in music as a means of telling a story – the whole cast sings, plays an instrument or creates sound effects and there's always keyboard, drums and guitars on stage. But the way they tell this particular story is a bit like Punk was to Puccini.

John Lightbody as Lysander with Victoria Mosely as Hermia

John Lightbody as Lysander with Victoria Mosely as Hermia

The scene opens on what looks like a grimy white tiled bathroom in an Underground arch. Designed by Hyemi Shin, once the scene is set – no mossy banks or sylvan glades here, just a pop-up festival tent – it matters not much because it's largely destroyed by the end. Enter Ed Gaughan, as narrator/stand-up, to put things in context for us. A context that encompasses The Queen's 90th birthday, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, Sylvia Plath and Tom Hardy. There's something for everyone, except perhaps Stratford-on-Avon's favourite son, in a tremendous performance by a very funny man.

Oh, yes, nearly forgot, Midsummer Night's Dream. Well, we do have three lovelorn couples – Hermia and Lysander, Helena and Demetrius, Oberon and Titania – some brilliant sound-effect fairies, the scariest Puck to ever girdle the globe in Filter's co-artistic director Ferdy Roberts, and a hotch potch of mechanicals attempting to put on a play – sometimes this play.

Ferdy Roberts as Puck

Shakespeare's lines have been cleverly filleted for whenever they need to move on the plot or provide a modern day, usually raunchy, double-entendre. And while these particular laughs might prove useful for jogging the memory come exam day, they do rather slow up the pace of the rest of the comedy.

Jonathan Broadbent's shiny-blue-leotarded Oberon, wearing a bumbag for a codpiece, provides some great physical gags, Hammed Animashaun's Demetrius some great lurve songs once he stops being a pompous idiot about Helena , and John Lightbody's Lysander gets down and dirty with some hip (and head, chest and knee) grinding designed to keep both audiences and chiropractors happy. Meanwhile previously BFFs Helena and Hermia, played by Clare Dunne and Victoria Moseley, give us a brilliant vixen hate fest once Puck has mixed up the lovers.

Unlike most performances of The Dream, the roles of Titania (Cat Simmons) and Bottom (Andrew Buckley), and even the play within the play, are more incidental to the other entanglements and events. Which leaves the ending of what is a generally joyful romp a slight anti-climax. Still it's an entertaining addition to the recent plays-that-go-pear-shaped genre and will undoubtedly cheer up any English Literature student who feels life is getting altogether too serious.

A Midsummer Night's Dream runs until 19 March

Book tickets online or call the box office on 0208 741 6850.

Liz Vercoe

Images: Tristram Kenton

March 4, 2016