“Keith, KEITH, it’s just two fellas kissing”
There was a moment towards the end of this performance, as Ferdy Robert’s burly roadie of a Puck launched into his epilogue, that perfectly encapsulates just how brilliant Filter are and also what magical power theatre can weave over even the rowdiest teenagers. Roberts began “if we shadows have offended” and was interrupted by loud, almost nervous, laughter. He looked up, gently but unflinchingly at the young woman and her friend until they quietened down, and then continued, addressing them directly at first and then widening out to the auditorium as a whole, our entire attention rapt.
It’s no mean feat to keep a theatre full of schoolkids hooked in silence (I attended the final preview), especially when the nature of this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is so raucous and riotous. It played the Lyric Hammersmith back in 2012 and if it doesn’t have quite the same multiple surprise element as before, it is still highly amusing second time round. Co-directors Sean Holmes and Stef O’Driscoll have condensed the play right down with the company and reconstructed it in their own image, at once deeply respectful of Shakespeare yet also utterly anarchic in the way it is presented here.
It begins as a stand-up routine (wittily essayed by Ed Gaughan), takes diversions into rock gigs, food fights, videogame roleplay and sound effect-nerd heaven amongst many many other innovations, yet the theatrical invention is always underpinned by an innate understanding of the verse. To wit, Jonathan Broadbent’s highly idiosyncratic Oberon reducing the entire theatre to hysterics whilst trying to find some love-in-idleness and then quick as a flash lulling us all with a deeply poetic entrance into “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows…”. So too Cat Simmons’ rock star-inspired Titania, quite at home rocking out on the microphone but equally able to turn on a dime to deliver her heartfelt promise to her votaress, and Roberts’ gorgeously sonorous voice riding the moods and swells of this don’t-give-a-Puck.
And the balance between verse and version is expertly maintained throughout, literally breaking through the walls of any potential stuffiness (Hyemi Shin’s set design is like a treasure chest of ongoing delights) and playing a surprising amount of truth as well (there’s no doubting exactly what John Lightbody’s brilliant Lysander wants from Clare Dunne’s nubile Helena once he’s been dosed up, no coyness about the sexuality here at all). Eating a picnic has never seemed so much fun, Bottom’s discovery comes about in a most inspired way, subtler touches like the range of British accents maintain the accessibility, you might even end up with a free doughnut. Inspired and inventive, a Dream of a show.