Royal Botanic Garden
Shakespeare is funny; his raucous revelry is nothing new or newsworthy, but The Handlebards’ production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes this a headline-worthy step further. While maintaining the integrity of the play, the all-male troupe takes Shakespeare’s work and runs amok with it, leaving their audience wiping tears of laughter from their cheeks clutching their sides for fear of their splitting.
The four performers perform every character with skill and dexterity (and a little help from the audience), switching between characters at the drop of a hat…or the ding of a bicycle bell. The direction clearly plays to each performer’s strengths, with Matthew Seager excelling in the high-strung role of Helena, Callum Brodie playing an hilariously unsettling Puck, and Tom Dixon and Calum Hughes-Mackintosh injecting mischief into every available moment of the play. All four performers evidently know the play inside out, staying faithful to the story whilst playing irreverently with it throughout. Particularly notable is the way in which the actors constantly upstage each other and play to the audience outside the play, something I might criticise in another production, but which is an intrinsic part of the comedy in this one; each performer holds his own and the ensemble is well balanced on stage. Particular examples of this include Dixon’s business with the puppet trio of Snout, Snug and Starveling, the mischievous administering of the love potion, and a certain incident with a bicycle.
The construction of the set and props similarly does not take itself too seriously, but is still well designed and innovative. From the bicycle powered backdrops, to Titania’s formidable wings, and the use of puppetry, the production is fast-paced and keeps surprising the audience with new theatrical devices and ideas. Add to this the continuing theme of bicycles with which the company leaves its mark, and you have a distinctive production that confidently strides in its own direction.
Taking one of Shakespeare’s most madcap plays and building upon it with their own energy, the company delivers a ceaselessly entertaining production. For anyone who finds themselves infected with the idea that the Bard is boring, anyone who doesn’t, and anyone in between, The Handlebards’ production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a must-see feast of riotous revelry and mischief.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at the Royal Botanic Gardens until 26th August as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.