The celebrations of William Shakespeare’s works are in full swing these days in honour of the 400th anniversary of the great writer’s death. Whilst the RSC presented a star packed televised live event to celebrate his work, the BBC has a raft of Shakespeare programmes and adaptations to look out for in its programming and theatres around the country are performing productions of Shakespeare’s plays.
Barging in like a bull in a china shop comes this rowdy, raucous and energetic young theatre company, Merely Theatre, who are performing two of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, Henry V and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the King’s Theatre this week. With minimum set and barely any costumes, props or even actors this company is performing with the intention of stripping back to the text and using gender-blind casting. That’s all very well, but when the dialogue in this production of Dream is being screeched across the stage at a lightning pace from a cast who seem in need of their Ritalin, perhaps the said text is getting lost in all the confusion. Artistic Director Sam Ellis has some neat tricks in the doubling-up of roles but when the actors come bolting onto the stage performing at an 11 from the off, there is a lack of light and shade to proceedings. It unfortunately begins to feel like a performance aimed at teenagers, a T.I.E. production that has a forced energy to keep its audience awake whilst the constant jumping off the stage and into the audience adds nothing to proceedings.
The play’s second half works much better as the franticness of the play itself matches up with the energy given off by the cast. The play-within-a-play is a suitable comic highlight and provides ample comic opportunity for the cast to relish in. By this point they have won over the audience with their enthusiasm; the theatre is in an uproar. A special mention must be made for actress Tamara Astor as well, for giving an impressively nuanced comical performance as the lovelorn Helena.
This is certainly a company to keep an eye out for. They are clearly eager to please and are passionate about Shakespeare. Whilst the production itself has its flaws, it’s wonderful to see such joy and enthusiasm coming from a young cast performing one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays.