A Midsummer Night’s Dream in New Orleans
Inspired by the New Orleans St John’s Eve celebrations, this production should be commended for its ambition in transporting Shakespeare’s original to the 1940s American South.
This invites some interesting character power plays, particularly the Lysander (Jonathan Ajayi), Hermia (Samantha Louise Clarke) and Theseus (Lawrence O’Connor) dynamic who briefly echo racially charged class structures in Act I.
But while a voodoo magic-infused forest as envisioned by director Linnie Reedman feels inventive, it doesn’t fully carry as a consistent aesthetic motif. A soundtrack featuring 1940s jazz tunes fits well, but the hard-working ensemble often struggle with their unconvincing southern accents.
There’s also a mismatched energy on stage, meaning that the shape and clarity of some scenes deteriorates. Jazz is meant to be cool but some scenes are played far too hot, and should instead draw down the intensity to focus on the subtext and comedy. This is most noticeable during the mechanicals’ tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe, which fails to generate many laughs, except from Matt Jopling’s scene-stealing Flute.
That said, there are some beautifully crafted moments, particularly the Act II face-off between Helena (EJ Martin) and Hermia, which is delightful to watch. A standout performance by Ajayi as Lysander is commanding while bringing depth and flair.
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