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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton


  A Midsummer Night's Dream


Nightingale Theatre, Brighton

Four hundred years on and Shakespeare still has the ability to jolt an audience into fresh sense of their own times - at least when it's a production like this.

The Academy of Creative Training's A Midsummer Night's Dream was an end-of-term show for the school that gives many of Brighton's aspiring actors their break. There were a few wobbles that betrayed the company's amateur status, but not too many to spoil the fun, and they were compensated by stretches of action that could easily have found a place on a professional stage.

Most striking, though, was the way Shakespeare's comedy is distilled down into two hours or so in which a play that's usually a light supper for balmy evenings is revealed to be heavily spiced with sex and drugs and violence.

Ralf Higgins direction foregrounds a perverse Puck (Lavanya Boon - what a name! I want to say it again - Lavanya Boon) whose mischief verges on malice, Oberon (Paddy O'Keeffe) struggling to keep her (as she is here) in check.

Her spells conjure from love the pain and frustration of rejection. Not only is somebody going to get hurt, you think somebody might well get killed as Hermia (Rachel Young), Lysander (Matt Eden), Helena (Clare Burt) and Demetrius (Robert Knowles) descend into a kind of insanity.

Puck's potions are administered like hard drugs and Lysander and Demetrius appear literally drunk on lust in their pursuit of Helena and their cruel treatment of Hermia.

Tension eases as the plot nears its denouement (and in this case there is a very real feeling of unknotting), and while the play-within-the-play provides comic, and genuine, relief, I'm still not sure what it's doing there. But then I was never one for happy endings.

July 15, 2009

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