Saturday, November 18, 2006

Theatre Review : A Midsummer Night's Dream - Tight Fit Theatre Company - Wycombe Town Hall (dir Mark Oldenow 14/10/06)

This production is by a tiny company of professional actors with a minuscule budget, hardly any props and a highly restricted staging area. So it is only befitting that we are generous and recognise the constraints within which they are operating. Yet, they have the material. Shakespeare's funniest and best-loved play - impossible to get wrong?

Puck comes onto a stage which is bare except for a large mattress. He drags six young ladies seemingly protesting and at random from the audience, who immediately transform into Theseus and his court. Thus by this Brechtian device is the doubling with no change of costume explained.

The actors proceed to give it everything, but for me there were two main problems. Firstly, their speed of delivery. No lingering over lines here - the words tumbled out, upsetting the comprehension of the audience (already stretched by the minimalism of the staging) and the pacing of the play. Secondly, the physical humour failed. I felt that the female actors in male roles were trying to compensate for their lack of masculinity by being more physically cruel and sexually predatory than the text merited. The slapstick was harsh, and whilst the two sets of lovers fought in the woods, the audience barely laughed once.

Bethany Turner played Bottom as a somewhat-fey oddball, with the most bizarre set of hand gestures. Now, Bottom has many odd characteristics, but feyness isn't one of them. The characterisation to my mind simply didn't work. However, this was dropped for the performance of Pyramus and Thisbe, where, thankfully, everything finally came right. Comic timing was perfect, a Spanish Flute as Thisbe was inspired and the audience went home happy and smiling, feeling good and hopefully forgetting that what had gone before had been, frankly, quite forgettable.

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