A Midsummer Night’s Dream @ Rose Theatre, Kingston-upon-Thames

cast list
Bob Barrett, Kelsey Brookfield, Babou Ceesay, Richard Clothier, John Dougall, Richard Dempsey, Richard Frame, Emmanuel Idowu, Jonathan Livingstone, Thomas Padden, Chris Myles, Jack Tarlton, Jon Trenchard

directed by
Edward Hall
Propeller, the all male theatre company led by Edward Hall, has a mission. To stage Shakespeare in a way that is accessible yet not oversimplified, that is physical yet also true to the poetry.

They are currently touring two shows around the country: a new staging of The Merchant of Venice and a revival of their production of A Midsummer Nights Dream.

It sounds like an obvious thing to say given that they are an all male company, but the most striking thing about the production is the masculinity of it.

The performers playing the female parts do little to signify femininity except for putting on skirts and speaking in a higher tone of voice.

There are no wigs and, apart from the odd skirt or cloak, the costumes consist of long johns and dog tags; some of the men playing female roles are pretty damn stocky and, regardless of role, the actors all sport close cropped hair and a fair bit of chin stubble.

Inevitably theres some playing about with gender roles, particularly in regards to the four lovers. When squabbling in the forest, Hermia and Helena square up like football fans in a pub brawl while Demetrious and Lysander scrap like schoolgirls in a playground. Jon Trenchards playful Puck wears stripy tights, a tutu and a pair of glittery ruby slippers an obvious nod to The Wizard of Oz. But other than that theres little overt toying with themes of sexuality; instead its a pretty straightforward run through of the play, though not nearly as bawdy and raucous as the Globes recent production, but entertaining nonetheless.

The ensemble cast work well together though there is room enough for some performances to stand out. Babou Ceesay makes a physically imposing Helena but is otherwise oddly demure. Richard Clothier, as Oberon, watching silently the havoc and confusion caused by Puck while reclining at the back of the stage, is both charismatic and a little sinister.

The production is a trifle laboured in places and after the high-jinks in the forest the Rude Mechanicals sequence feels rather drawn out. When Thisbe emerges looking not unlike Kenny Everett in drag with beard, blonde wig and balloon like comedy bosoms, its perhaps not as mirth-inducing as it was intended to be, though this does contrast quite nicely with the more subtle manner in which the cast have tackled the plays female roles.

The set is attractive, with a lace curtain covering the back wall of the stage and a row of white dining chairs suspended at head height, across which the actors sometimes climb. It evokes a world of fantasy and magic quite successfully. Theres something quite Narnia-like about all that white.

Director Edward Hall generates a good few laughs but at time the pacing of the piece drags. There are enough well thought out moments to compensate for these occasional lulls, making for an enjoyable if not earth-shattering night.

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