Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (online)

Jenny Caron Hall started the Shake Festival in late 2019, and last night was the one-off Zoom rehearsed reading of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, streamed live on YouTube.

Although the publicity all concentrated on the casting of Hollywood players Dan Stevens and Rebecca Hall in the dual roles of Theseus/Oberon and Hippolyta/Titania – and good though they are – I found others in the cast definitely caught the eye, and they worked well together as an ensemble.

Luisa Omielan is a lot of fun as Bottom, her accented English making the scenes of comic confusion all the better. Wendy Morgan is an absolute joy as the mischievous Puck, spinning the girdle around the world and spreading fairy dust and discord. Daniel Bowerbank is inspired casting for Helena (with a lovely song near the end), with Máiréad Tyers a spiky yet delicate Hermia.

Rehearsal image from A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shake Festival

This is a simple Zoom reading, with no flashy background, but after taking a little time to warm up, this does start to do justice to what is, after all, one of the Bard’s most accessible and magical plays. I was quite happy to drink it all in over a couple of hours, and enjoyed the experience.

The play in the play by Quince (Robert Hands) and his “rude mechanicals” sparks despite it being performed in separate windows (and Hall’s reactions as Hippolyta are funny in themselves to watch). Stevens’s jealous Oberon is as petty as can be in his searcb for the changeling boy, and his delivery gives a hint of both exasperation and the slipping grasp of power.

Now, through lockdown, we have seen many Zoom productions, both live and edited for later broadcast or streaming. They have become extremely sophisticated and innovative, so I am unclear – entertaining though this Dream is – why it is needed at this point. Of course I am not expecting something of the experimental level of the recent RSC Dream, but even rehearsed readings in this format can play with backgrounds, costumes, lighting and staged interaction betwen characters (as the Shakespeare productions in The Show Must Go Online channel have attempted).

Screencap from live stream of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shake Festival

I do applaud Caron Hall’s attempt as director to bring a team together and create a bit of sparkle, but I was a little disappointed on the technical side. More of the interaction we saw near the end of the fairies reaching out, or effects around Puck’s mischief and sp(r)ite, would have been welcome.

With this in mind I would place this Dream in the middle ground of digital productions: a perfectly acceptable, absorbing two hours, but just missing the chance to really exploit what online theatre can do.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream live-streamed on 31 March as part of the Shake Festival.

LouReviews received complimentary access to review A Midsummer Night’s Dream.