Broken Arrow show what they do best - as well as a few new tricks - in a gorgeous, tribal version of Shakespeare's best-known comedy.
Broken Arrow really know how to put on a show. Much like the hapless Nick Bottom, the audience stumble into the company’s dark, tribal vision of Shakespeare’s fairies – the air heavy with incense, the cast burst onto the strobe-lit stage to open the show with a passionate, faultless dance sequence.
What follows is an intoxicating re-imagining of the magical events of the play. Taking the story out of its original Grecian context, directors Alexander Curtis and Lucy Hughes have instead placed it in an other-worldly frame – here, it is the meeting of magic and mortal that drive the show and pique the audience’s interest.
The pinnacle of this concept is perhaps the strongest point of the play – the ass-headed Nick Bottom (Jed Marshall) and the captivating Queen Titania (Robyn Fryer) perfectly represent their two worlds and consequently both give outstanding performances. Marshall is every bit the perfect fool – too often Bottom is reduced to a mere prop to be swept along in the power play between the fairies. Marshall, however, brings a real agency to the role before he is transformed, giving his later, contrasting state of trance a feel of vulnerability. Opposite him, Fryer’s Titania is all sultry power, turned later into the biggest fool of all under Oberon’s (Alexander Curtis, subtly ethereal) spell – ultimately, these two along with the other fairies bring the manipulative moments of the play to the forefront, adding an edge of malice to the usually mischievous fairy chorus.
Caught up in all this magic are, of course, the four lovers, Hermia and Lysander (Lucy Hughes and James Forster) and Helena and Demetrius (Sarah Divall and Chris Walker). Carrying scenes that can all too easily descend into tedious squabbling, the four inject some realism and humour into their wing of the story, drawing genuine laughs from the text and creating easily recognisable versions of their characters for a modern audience – most notably Forster’s denim-clad, flippant Lysander, every teenage girl’s dream, and all of their fathers’ worst nightmares. There’s also some brilliantly-executed use of movement between Divall and Walker, as he drags her desperate, lovesick body around by one leg, and then later as she does her best to evade his lustful swipes.
Strong performances across the board, and a sharp cut of the Bard’s lengthy script down to a much more comfortable ninety minutes allow the company to create a remarkably enjoyable audience experience. Among their transference of the context, they still allow for Shakespeare’s existing comedy to shine through – it’s easy in less accomplished productions to forget that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is supposed to be funny. Rather than projecting their own gags onto the script, Broken Arrow are adept and comfortable with the text, and rely on that to bring the comedy through – and it absolutely pays off.
It is gutting to see this company really find their niche in their final production, but A Midsummer Night’s Dream provides a beautiful lasting memory for Broken Arrow’s intelligent and ambitious work on the Southampton theatre scene.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at The Stage Door until Saturday 13th – tickets are still available here.