Russell T. Davies’ (Years and Years) adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic romantic comedy managed something I’ve never seen in this play: a real sense of danger and motivation. Even Julie Taymor’s inventive take on it didn’t manage that. But Davies also had the courage to reconceive the story and edit it down to 90 minutes. Honestly, it is the better for it in this production. It helps balance the characters into a true ensemble and streamline the story without losing the intent. And director David Kerr took Davies’ script and ran with it.
From its opening, with John Hannah (Sliding Doors) blasting onto scene as a tyrannous Theseus, we know we’re in for something different. This Midsummer owes a lot to many films, from Richard III and Silence of the Lambs to Hunger Games and Wizard of Oz, and a slew of others too long to mention. Few of these are overdone, most are brushstrokes to evoke emotions. But it all works nicely.
Matt Lucas (How to Talk to Girls at Parties) and Maxine Peake (The Bisexual) as Bottom and Titania are two of the amusing standouts, though the young lovers acquit themselves well too, especially Matthew Tennyson (Pride) and Prisca Bakare. I wanted to like Kate Kennedy’s Helena more, but it is always a challenging role to believe, even with the changes that helped it this round. If anyone really got short-changed in this production it was Hiran Abeysekera, whose Puck is entertaining, but most decidedly a minor character rather than the typical scene stealer he has become over the centuries.
As a whole, this is probably the best interpretation, and nearest to perfect, I’ve seen of this play. It’s also one of the best riffs on Shakespeare as well, showing both reverence and a keen sense of its current audience to make it accessible and enjoyable.