One of the many joys of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the numerous opportunities it provides for ingenuity and extravagance. Director Mike Tweddle explores them to the furthest margins in this high-octane start to the Tobacco Factory Theatres’ repertory season.
Tweddle presents the Dream as a comedy about faltering human relationships, alongside an excursion into the, sometimes frightening, power of imagination. His strategy is to conjure up a dystopian world, underlining the tensions and social dangers of the times through the driving physical approach of the nine players.
This doesn’t always work. The poetry is largely abandoned, at times the production is disjointed; and the fight between the lovers in the wood (often a highlight) seems to last an eternity.
The relationship between the lovers becomes even more chaotic, yet also more evocative, with Lysander played as Lysanda (Evlyne Oyedokun) and Helena as Helenus (Joseph Tweedale), while Charleen Qwaye’s Titania is very much the driving force, if also a frustrated one, in her relationship with Luca Thompson’s Oberon. He is in thrall most of the time to Kim Heron’s anything-but-gentle Puck, who freewheels through just about every inch of Anna Reid’s strangely industrial set.
The impression of watching three separate plays – harsh court, scary pastoral, vengeful fairies – lessens as the production progresses, and the closing Pyramus and Thisbe playlet is a triumph of invention.
But Tweddle’s masterstroke is in casting Bristol theatre stalwart Heather Williams as Bottom. Herself a distinguished director, she gives a Victoria Wood-like masterclass in how to make a perfect ass of yourself.