Milton Keynes Theatre
22 May 2014, 2.30pm
This production was the first one that I ever saw Northern Ballet do and firmly established me as a fan of the company.
I thought it gave fantastic new life to A Midsummer Night’s Dream then, and now it's just as good as I remember.
The classic Shakespearean comedy is always an audience favourite but this production transports the quarrelling lovers and feuding fairies into a setting which the company will be all too familiar with.
The characters are now all part of a touring dance company and the shenanigans that are usually played out in a forest all take place on a sleeper train between London and Edinburgh as the dancers travel to their next show.
The company's final rehearsal has been a disaster and as they get on the train, the arguments continue.
As the train speeds north it enters a tunnel, tension grows and the company find themselves in a strange nocturnal world where they have to resolve their disputes.
Entering a tense twilight world where numerous disputes are played out may sound like a normal long distance train journey in this country, but let’s face it, if this show was based on that, then all the action would have to take place on a replacement bus as damage to the overhead lines would have long since rendered any train useless!
But this scenario really works for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Not only do the characters translate well into this new setting - Theseus becomes the Artistic Director, Hippolyta his prima ballerina who he wants to retire, while the four lovers are competitive soloists - but the idea of hierarchy and battles of ego could relate to any working situation.
It therefore shows a modern understanding of some of the themes and shows once again how Shakespeare really understood human nature.
The comic fighting between Lysander and Hermia and Helena and Demetrius as they each fail to win the object of their desire is intricate, physical, clever and extremely funny.
And I have to say, that the men's skimpy boxer shorts that made such an impression on me the first time thankfully remained, and once again I was amazed that they didn't spilt - it was real edge of the seat stuff I can tell you! Hurrah for the wardrobe department!
Then there’s also the fact that it looks fantastic. Set in the late 1940s, the glamorous costumes reflect Dior’s post-war New Look, and range from the stylish black and white of the rehearsal room to a riot of colour in the ‘dream’ sequence.
But for anyone with even a passing interest in stage design and the machinations of the set, Duncan Haylor’s creation is very clever. It’s a real joy just to see the rehearsal room turn into the train and then the train move off the platform!
Northern Ballet have done a superb job once again. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is witty, vivacious, stylish and a lot of fun!