Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh
EUSC’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a real treat. I’m feeling a bit tired and grumpy before we set off for the theatre – a culmination of late nights and hayfever – but this sprightly production soon puts a spring in my step and, by the time I leave, I’m all smiles.
There’s something endearing about the audiences for these student productions: they’re always so vocal in their enthusiasm. It really helps to cement the whole ‘shared experience’ feeling of live performance, and debunks the idea that theatre only appeals to the middle-class and middle-aged. Their liveliness feeds the atmosphere, which is almost as charged off-stage as on. I love it.
Director Sara Cemin deftly braids the disparate strands of Shakespeare’s play. This is a vivacious, playful production, subtly updated with occasional asides (I mean, I don’t think “Fuck’s sake!” appears in the First Folio), which illuminate the jokes, sending laughter rippling through the auditorium.
The fever dream chaos is nicely realised: the four passionate youths, lost in the woods; the bumbling Mechanicals, desperately sincere in their desire to create something worthwhile; the mischievous faeries, unable to resist the impulse to play tricks. It’s a perfect storm.
The Mechanicals are the standouts. Some of this is down to Billy Bard himself, of course: there’s such a clever balance of scorn and tenderness in his rendering of them. But Cemin deserves credit for drawing this out, for resisting the urge to make them pantomime-ish figures, affording them instead the dignity of working people, striving to make something good (while still gently poking fun). Max Prentice (last seen by B&B in EUTC’s Education, Education, Education in 2018) is perfectly cast as Bottom: he’s clearly a natural comedian, and is instantly engaging. He’s definitely one to watch. But don’t underestimate those in the smaller roles either; this strand highlights the power of ensemble performance.
I do have a couple of minor gripes. First: the dry ice machine. “Fuck’s sake,” as Helena would say. It works well to set the scene when the faeries first appear, but – where cough-inducing smoke is concerned – less is more. Second (and this might just be me): the long interval. I know people need time to go to the loo and buy a drink, but anything longer than fifteen minutes disrupts the momentum, and all the tension that’s been so carefully built in the first act just starts to dissipate. Neither of these is a deal-breaker though.
I love Amelia Chinnock Schuman’s choreography, particularly in the fight scene, which is impressively visceral. The four lovers (Lucy Melrose, Archie Barrington, Isabelle Hodgson and Will Nye) approach this tussle with evident gusto, and the fear of injury seems very real (not least because of the rucked-up rug I keep thinking someone’s going to trip over. Yes, I am a laugh). The music is a satisfying addition too. It’s all original (by Joe Pratt and Mark Sandford), and I applaud the decision to have live musicians on stage. The songs are well-integrated into the production: enhancing rather than intrusive.
No review of AMND is complete without reference to Puck, and Priya Basra seems made for the role. She imbues the goblin with the necessary likability, so that we can witness his careless cruelty without abhorring him. She has eye-rolling down to a fine art.
All in all, then, this is an absolute delight. There’s only one night left. Buy a ticket – quickly!