Music is central to Sheffield artistic director Robert Hastie’s colourful production of Shakespeare’s comedy. A piano sits in the centre of the stage and the show boasts a score by the Feeling’s Dan Gillespie Sells, co-creator of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, the hit British musical that began life at the Crucible Theatre.
The visuals also make a big impact. Designer Chiara Stephenson has suspended a huge moon over a circular stage patterned with stars and framed with flowers. The quartet of lovers wear natty pastels while the fairies sport fringed dresses in shades of acid pink and cornea-searing yellow; Pandora Colin’s Titania rocks a blue sequinned jumpsuit and matching shoes.
But the pacing and delivery are not as vibrant, particularly in the beginning. While there are polished comic performances – from Daniel Rigby, as Bottom, and Sophia Nomvete, as a no-nonsense Peta Quince – there’s a lack of fizz between the lovers and the scenes of abandon and love-madness feel constrained. Bobby Delaney makes an amiable, ivory-tinkling Puck – with his blond crop and sparkly attire, there’s more than a dash of Jamie about him – and Francesca Mills is a scene-stealing Snug. But, for the first half at least, the production remains earthbound.
In Shakespeare’s play, music infuses the world of the fairies and Gillespie Sells has used the existing rhythms to set the fairies’ various ditties and lullabies to song. This is really effective. When Hastie’s cast gets to work with the music the production achieves a degree of uplift that’s otherwise lacking. The delineation between the fairy realm and that of the mortals leaves the latter feeling rather pedestrian, despite energetic performances from Patricia Allison, Toheeb Jimoh, Lorne MacFadyen and Evelyn Miller as the lovers. Allison’s peppy Hermia is particularly endearing.
Hastie’s production is coherent and easy to watch. It’s accessible and frequently amusing if, eye-popping costumes aside, it’s also fairly unadventurous in the way it presents the play.
Until, that is, the Rude Mechanicals get to have their moment in the moonlight. This is like an adrenaline shot. Everything kicks up a gear, as Hastie’s production cracks out the spandex, the Marc Bolan wigs, the platform boots and glitter lippy. Rigby, Nomvete and co deliver their take on Pyramus and Thisbe as a glam-rock extravaganza – complete with megamix.
This crowd-pleasing scene ensures things end on a high, though it doesn’t quite eclipse the earlier longueurs. Only when it lets loose and ramps up the glam does Hastie’s production achieve a kind of magic.