The course of true Shakespeare never did run smooth | tori's tales: The course of true Shakespeare never did run smooth

3 March 2013

The course of true Shakespeare never did run smooth

The boy and I took another trip to the theatre this weekend - the tickets for which were another generous and thoughtful Christmas present - to see Custom/Practice's performance of Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'.

Orirginally from

Although not to our tastes - as fans of traditional pieces (don't be fooled by the poster!) - I admire the company's ethic; to make Shakespeare more accessible to the masses through contemporary re-telling's of his traditional works. The opening scene is set in a school detention room, where the pupils are bewitched by a teacher who transforms them into the play’s characters.
All of the actors played multiple parts - which I have found to be a common occurrence in small theatre-company productions - to varying degrees of authenticity. I felt it a little rushed at times which meant it lost the emotional content - certainly it’s main theme of difficulties in love deserves a greater understanding than just the memorising and relaying of the words affords. It also came across fairly pantomime-y in its presentation of ‘The Mechanicals’ (the acting troupe of local craftsmen who are practising a play, within the play, to be performed at the wedding of Duke and his Queen) although I am well aware (this is, after all, my most favourite Shakespeare play!) that the scenes that feature them are meant as a comedic break from the rest.

I have now seen the play live 3 times and all have differed in their performances quite greatly. The first was an open-air production by Chapterhouse that I saw with my Mum a few years ago now, in some beautiful gardens back on my home turf. We took along a little picnic and settled in for the evening with our flask of tea and blankets. Although they used contemporary costume, the production felt true to the original piece which made for a most enjoyable (and familiar-feeling) viewing. I also loved the open-air setting, so I most certainly will look to see another outdoor performance in the future.
The second was with my boy, again back home, by Headlong. Contemporary in its production, it used a 1960's Hollywood film set as its backdrop and included such oddities as fairies on tiny bicycles wearing 3D glasses! Slick, well thought-out and flawlessly-performed, it made for quite the memorable, and entertaining, piece.

Last night's performance, I'm afraid to say, detracted from the beautiful story and words by its emphasis on trying to make the audience laugh. However, I can most appreciate how appealing it would be to a younger generation (not just children but teens alike) due to its high energy content and pace, plus the every-so-often-inserted comedic asides (a little too 'he's behind you'/'oh no he isn't' for my liking I'm afraid!).

For anyone who is interested, I wanted to leave you with a lovely little piece I found on YouTube - a 1909 film performance (seemingly the first ever!) of the play. It's under 10 minutes long and is worth a watch for the beautiful music alone! I absolutely loved its simplicity and, very sweet, special effects! One funny little occurrence - Oberon (King of the fairies) for some reason is portrayed as  a female called Penelope!
Click on the picture to watch!
Left - originally from
Right - originally from

Have any of you ever watched a performance that you've either really enjoyed or really haven't? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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