A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Clapham with Creation Theatre & Omnibus Theatre
Theatre is a living and breathing medium, language a lively form, and Shakespeare a playwright for all times. Yet too often it can be stifling, rigid, and uniform as it follows rules and plays at being ‘proper.’ But when it comes to seeing an art form you know well, it’s not enough just to have to have it replayed. Instead, as Lee McGowan said about locative literature, ‘Like a Hobnob in a hot brew, I want to dunk all my other senses in it too.’
Creation Theatre take A Midsummer Night’s Dream and make it a reality, all on the streets of Clapham with Omnibus Theatre. Part performance and part treasure hunt, we become both actors and audiences in the build up to Theseus’ and Hippolyta’s wedding.
Few productions have the audience sent on cryptic quests, required to sing for freedom, bundled into vans and carry gifts to the happy couples – but that’s part of the magic of this dream. Few productions also have adults weeping with laughter and sheer silliness and spontaneity. Boundaries broken, it does start to all feel a bit fantastical. This urban adventure is a mixture of clues, live acting and pre-recorded video, and all weaves into a seamless and surreal event.
Inhibitions and purism won’t really be welcome here, as scheming fairies and talented actors twist and contort the text. A clever use of digital makes the magical scenes even more evanescent than a traditional theatre space, and technology becomes an enhancing medium. Even though Rolos, estate agents and Clapham aren’t in the original Folio, Shakespeare did shift and change things for his time, responding both to current events and the groundlings the company performed in front of.
Bottom and Patsy Quince are played outstandingly well by Rhodri Lewis and Shelley Atkins. One of our early points of call was The Sun Pub, where we auditioned for the role of bats in The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe. As they pointed out later on, we had a lot to learn. Giles Stoakley is convincing and engaging as Egeus, concerned that his daughter Helena wants to marry barista Lysander (Andy Owens), when he would much prefer a barrister. Brilliant energy comes from Natasha Rickman as Helena and Lucy Pearson in the role of small yet fierce Hermia.
With ten separate groups going round at the same time, the logistics are impressive. We begin with a briefcase containing an invitation to a wedding, four red rose buttonholes and some printed instructions. We wander streets looking for ‘Crack’ (laughter and fun), are enticed into estate agents for clues, and my friend is shoved in a wardrobe and required to sing Robbie Williams’ Angels for freedom. Yet we never see another group. This makes it hard to know what is part of the performance and what is not. On discovering a pile of clothes on the street we were unsure if a genuine domestic was taking place. The lively Lucy soon appeared and we became her accomplices in running away from her father, Demetrius (Rob Hadden). When a man takes us down a side alley to learn how to blend in appropriately with our surroundings, it could look like we’re just investigating the local streets. In fact Colin Hurley is Puck, and teaching us best how to look like carrots, should the need arise.
Far from a passive audience, we become energetic parts to the performance. Director Zoe Seaton describes it as ‘free range’ theatre and it’s certainly more exhilarating and expansive than most immersive theatre. Cleverly done, our group of four—Hippolyta’s second cousins and thus wedding guests—were given clues and meeting places to solve, and followed our own trail without tripping over any other ‘guests’ until we all joined back together for the finale wedding picnic. We sneak back into the theatre through roofs, windows and, well, doors for the final perfomance, in which we are all Players.
Creation have done something rather magical in their offering of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s not just interactive, but engaging, visceral, and bold. Tricky to describe without giving it away, let’s just say that your trip to Athens will challenge all your preconceptions about theatre, Shakespeare, and Clapham.
Filed under: Theatre & Dance