Chris Eldon Lee reviews Shropshire Youth Theatre’s production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, at Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn till February 23rd.
From the moment Lucio Gray (as Theseus) strides onto the stage and takes command of proceedings, you know you’re in for a night of confidence and clarity. There is barely a weak link in this excellent team of 30 teenage performers, with their tiptop timing, powerful projection and consummate comprehension of the text. These guys have sussed Shakespeare and do him proud.
The great thing about following the fortunes of Shropshire Youth Theatre through the years (it’s their 20th anniversary) is watching timid little things unfold as mature actors. The company chooses the play; stage manages it themselves and deserves much of the credit…with just a little bit reserved for the relatively grown up director and producer, Andrew Bannerman and Maggie Love.
Lucio is now tall and statesman like and Hippolyta on his arm (played by Anna Linighan) a statuesque lady with regal bearing and Amy Winehouse hairdo. I sat back and relaxed as they laid down the ground rules for 90 minutes of delight.
The lovers soon arrive – led by a naturally talented and suitably-sized Alex Legge as the diminutive Hermia. Her performance was beautifully tremulous at first; growing with rage later as all four lovers delivered the argument scene with raw energy, absolute panache and total conviction. Sustaining a long, four-cornered row on stage, whilst still getting the laughs, is a tough ask of teenage actors – one they had no trouble in polishing off.
The fairies are innovatively presented in steam punk regalia; in pastel rags, frizzed hair and painted arms. (I suspect there’s been an explosion involving several cans of paint in a branch of Monsoon). Zoe Jones plays Titania like a defiant, impetuous rock star and Rhys Hart’s Oberon deftly treads the tightrope between being authoritative and hen-pecked…his words cleverly echoed by his Pages. And I particularly enjoyed Chloe Carr as the cheeky, horned Puck, mimicking her humans like a Dead Ringer.
So where’s Bottom?
The perennial problem with youth theatre is there’s a surfeit of girls and not enough boys to play the men. None of this bothered Emma Owens who suddenly bounced on as ‘Nichola Bottom’, an irrepressible stage ‘lovie’ with Ethel Merman humour, Judy Garland gestures and a very fine pair of pigtails. The Mechanicals’ play is all the funnier for her – smartly matched by Matt Edwards who at 13 clearly sees the irony in his attempts to decline the female part of Thisbie because “I have a beard coming.”
The one weakness is the cash-strapped set of scaffolding and sheets. Youth Theatre is endemically under resourced and the cast deserves better. The upside is that the scaffolding team has been invited to see the show tonight before they deconstruct it. So the Mechanicals will watch the Mechanicals…just as they did in Shakespeare’s day.
Visit www.theatresevern.co.uk for bookings & information about Theatre Severn