A Midsummer Night's Dream (Liverpool Everyman)

In 2015 Sophie cast A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM for Liverpool Everyman Theatre; the inaugural production by the theatre’s new Associate Director, Nick Bagnall.  

 

The production followed Bagnall’s bold, beautiful and critically acclaimed Henry VI trilogy for Shakespeare’s Globe and the re-opening of the award-winning Everyman with Gemma Bodinetz’s joyous production of Twelfth Night.

 

★★★★ The Guardian, Alfred Hickling:

‘The measure of a good Dream is how it manages the transition between the killjoy austerity of the Athenian court and the magical mayhem of the woods. The Everyman’s new associate director Nick Bagnall has come up with a convincing, low-tech solution that places the action amid the chalk dust and colourless uniforms of a minor public school.

 

However, what really matters is what lies beyond the blackboard, which Ashley Martin-Davis’s design reveals to be a forest shredded into waist-high drifts of discarded homework. […] The paper makes an absorbent medium for Peter Mumford’s gloriously iridescent lighting; and it’s great fun to see Titania’s bower hastily heaped together as if the fairies have decided to put their queen out with the recycling.

 

These fairies turn out to be a fairly sinister lot – a group of faceless, burly henchmen glimpsed only in silhouette – though Bagnall makes the point that the forest should be as sinister as it is enchanting. Garry Cooper’s Oberon could be a macabre, stone-faced cousin of the Addams family, while Sharon Duncan-Brewster’s sultry Titania is poured into a sparkly sheath-dress like a supernatural Nina Simone.

 

Above all, Bagnall recognises that the transfiguration of Bottom is not only hilarious but also quite horrible. Here he rears up from the piles of foolscap in a ghastly, asinine deaths-head so that, for once, the terrified reactions of his colleagues seem entirely justified. As Bottom, Dean Nolan shows remarkable agility for a big man. Lewis Bray’s Flute is built to a similar scale, yet it is a measure of the production’s mercurial shifts of mood that their ludicrous re-enactment of the deaths of Pyramus and Thisbe suddenly becomes genuinely quite moving.

 

A Dream in which even the mechanicals’ play is actually worth waiting for – it’s hard to give stronger recommendation than that.’

 

★★★★ The Times, Sam Marlowe:

Venture into the woods for this unsettling take on Shakespeare’s supernatural comedy and you may be relieved to find your way out again. Not that Nick Bagnall’s production — his first as Everyman associate director — isn’t a dark delight. It’s marvellously, if sometimes rather chaotically entertaining and glitters with mischief. Yet alongside the uncanny — the vengeful fairies, narcotic flowers and fever dreams — are more disturbing undertones. Be warned: a happy ending is not guaranteed.

 

The lovers are not just young — they’re naive, vulnerable schoolchildren, Helena and Hermia in knee-socks and blazers, Demetrius and Lysander like two slightly smug sixth-form prefects. Charlotte Hope’s Hermia, threatened by her father with forced marriage, is distraught and brimful of agonising teenage passion for Tom Varey’s Lysander, while Emma Curtis’s gawky, lovelorn Helena is sulkily poignant. Whether they will find happiness with the boys is uncertain: Matt Whitchurch’s Demetrius shows signs of being a nasty bully that scarcely bode well for marital bliss.

 

[It’s] great fun, the lovers’ confusions bittersweet, frenetic and hormonally charged and the mechanicals a burly gang of manual workers in high-vis building gear. Dean Nolan’s plump, bearded Bottom is instantly adorable, his cavortings with Titania lustily saucy and his unexpected appearance wearing nothing but an enormous paper donkey dong toe-curlingly hilarious. Bagnall’s staging is often unruly, but its impish interplay of shadow and light amuses, intrigues and unnerves.’

 

★★★★ Whatsonstage.com, Caroline Baldock:

With so many versions of much-performed works, is there a danger of becoming bored with the Bard? Of course not; Shakespeare always provides infinite variety, and the Everyman’s associate director Nick Bagnall, and designer Ashley Martin-Davis have gone to town with rustic fantasy in a truly innovative production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

For a start, the acrobatic Puck is a woman (Cynthia Erivo), decked out as Master of Ceremonies, and the play opens with lush, unsettling music on a bare stage set with the bases of four pillars, the backdrop a graffiti scrawled blackboard. So it should not come as a surprise that the star-cross’d lovers are students. But it does, until the realisation that it works wonderfully well, particularly the scene in the forest when they start arguing and fighting: passion, petulance, hissy fits – typical teengers. Astonishing performances, and all recent graduates: Charlotte Hope (Hermia); Emma Curtis (Helena); Tom Varey (Lysander); and Matt Whitchurch (Demetrius).

 

[…] Also inventive are the props, such as the grim Ass’s head, especially those wielded by the Rude Mechanicals – yes, extremely rude. Their performance, craftily led by Andrew Schofield as Peter Quince, is hilarious, receiving applause at every turn, what with Alan Stocks (Tom Snout/Wall), and Dean Nolan’s irrepressible, larger than life Bottom, whether duetting with Titania, or with Thisbe (Francis Flute), as Pyramus.

 

The masterstroke of the production are the fairies; no dainty sprites, these are more akin to Dadd’s evil spirits; distinctly eerie, from Garry Cooper’s sinister Oberon growling and prowling around the stage, to a disorientated Titania (Sharon Duncan-Brewster). Her beautiful frock is un-matched; no pretty wings and gauze for their black clad attendants, reminiscent of the border of Munch’s Madonna.

 

A lot of ground is covered in the space of this one magical night, and it’s exactly what people can look forward to: an enchanted evening.’

 

Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating 9.5/10, Ian D. Hall:

‘One year on from the Everyman Theatre opening its bright, brand new interior to the people of Liverpool once more, throwing the wrapping of the impressive exterior and the doors being opened wide with a huge Merseyside smile, William Shakespeare returns to liven up the world and let the magic in the Everyman stage run over.

 

Of course, following on from the Gemma Bodinetz directorial masterpiece of Twelfth Night in 2014 is an almost Herculean task, any director might think it would be worth having a punt at taking on the Nemean Lion with a donkey strapped to his back, rather than go toe to toe with the play that defined the renaissance period of the new Everyman being opened. However, in Director Nick Bagnall, challenges are there to be met, and in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the bar of inventiveness was equally matched and the whole evening was one of sheer and unbridled enjoyment.

 

In many respects this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream could easily be one of the most remarkable, one of the fully encompassing of all in the last forty years. Its staging was bold, creative, ingenious, the players at their heightened best and the use of mirrors giving a sense of the unexpected, the fragmented mind always looking back at itself and of reflected depth, to carry off the sense of allusion in some many ways and yet keep the play flowing is somewhat significant and astonishing.

 

Not only is the play of the highest standard but Dean Nolan surely should be seen as one of the most notable Bottoms to date. A performance not for the mewling kitten, Bottom should be played with exuberance, with brashness but with kind heart and with the confidence to be a true ass, but never once stepping into the realms of awkward insincerity, it is a part that captures the spirit of the play and deserves as much respect as Macbeth, Hamlet, Viola, Henry V, Antony, Cleopatra or Cordelia.

 

Dean Nolan takes on the part with a sense of the occasion, of overriding perhaps other conventional thought that Bottom, whilst a great joyful character, is a bumbling fool, a teaser for the audience to have light relief. Dean Nolan, with guidance from Nick Bagnall, brings Bottom back to the rightful place in the world of notable Shakespeare characters, perhaps arguably to the point where Shakespeare’s written words, “All the world’s a stage” speech in As You Like Itmeans something more. The audience can see this plainly in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, all must play their part and even a Bottom can be a King in his own mind for one night.

 

With a great supporting cast, including Garry Cooper, Lewis Bray, fresh from a tremendous run at the Playhouse in his own play Cartoonopolis, and Cynthia Ervio as the mischievous Puck, Nick Bagnall’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the kind of play in which theatre goers should aspire to be part of, to be immersed into the dream state and be comforted in the scale of its ambition. A play of outstanding quality.’

 

★★★★ The Public Reviews, Jamie Gaskell:

‘The Everyman is to be congratulated on its casting of young actors in these roles. It is the professional stage debut of Charlotte Hope (Hermia) and Emma Curtis (Helena) who are quite spellbinding at times. Dressing the girls in modern school uniforms giving them a heart-tugging frailty for being exposed to adult machinations and the ambitions of others.

And their equally fresh-faced swains Lysander (Tom Varey) and Demetrius (Matt Whitchurch) step up to the plate of such demanding roles with delightful confidence and charm.

 

Equally successful is the care taken with the frolics of the workmen who are would-be actors. Their presence is always a big hit with the audience. Principal in this is Nick Bottom (Dean Nolan) who overacts deliciously in the manner that would make even Brian Blessed blush. He is only occasionally eclipsed by Everyman’s own prodigy Lewis Bray when he pops up as Bottom’s wife.

 

The mischievous twinkle of Scouse favourite Andrew Schofield absolutely spot-on as the leader of workmen cum actors. These brash exchanges balance the mechanical coolness of Garry Cooper as Oberon and Sharon Duncan-Brewster decked out like a nightclub singer to strut her stuff as Titania. It is a truly wonderful moment when she loses that cool and lavishes her lust on Nolan’s hapless Bottom. Ah, such stuff as dreams are made of.’

 

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BOTTOM Dean Nolan
EGEUS & SNOUT Alan Stocks
HERMIA Charlotte Hope
PUCK Cynthia Erivo
LYSANDER Tom Varey
TITANIA Sharon Duncan-Brewster
OBERON Garry Cooper
DEMETRIUS Matt Whitchurch
FLUTE Lewis Bray
HELENA Emma Curtis
QUINCE Drew Schofield
SNUG Ozzie Yue
STARVELING Michael Hawkins
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SOPHIE PARROTT CDG