A commanding, busty Titania sits with her changeling child as drab fairies dance woozily around her to crackly swing music. A lone lock of ivy tumbles down in the middle of the stage. To the right is a bunker exit labelled ‘Athens Shelter’. This evocative scene in a nuclear wasteland greets the audience upon entry, before the play itself begins. In this setting, Drunk Tank Productions present an original, hour-long reimagining of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which, though short, largely upholds the integrity of Shakespeare’s comedy.
To avoid lengthy introductions, a cheery black-and-white jazz-age film projected onto the back of the stage introduces the premise. In this version of the story, the wealthy have retreated into bunkers to avoid the effects of a nuclear war. Young lovers Hermia and Lysander have fled from the underground haven of the Athens Shelter into a post-apocalyptic ‘wood’. The fairies in this production are the canny inhabitants of the wasteland on the surface. Some have fluorescent skin. All are grimy and dressed in tatters. The queen of the fairies, Titania, is gloriously shabby, covered with makeup and wearing an ill-fitting blonde wig.
The choreography is well-executed: all of the actors are very comfortable with the physical elements of the production. The four lovers are wonderful to watch in their dogged pursuit of one another and Puck is a twitchy, jerking mischief-maker with equally manic hair. The staging helps to involve the audience, with entrances behind and in front of the seating. However, the amount of time the cast spend behind the main seating area means that often the audience have to crane their necks to see what’s happening, while the lights coming on and off over the audience in these parts break the illusion of the play.
The fairy king and queen are excellent: Oberon is a gun-toting thug and Titania is his stubborn match, while of the four young lovers, the petulant Helena shines the most. The acting is generally very good. Titania’s singing is impressive and the inclusion of jazz songs like ‘Feeling Good’ and ‘Summertime’ adds to the dusty, decayed charm of the post-apocalyptic setting.
There are clever alterations to the play that fit the period. For example, gas bombs are used by impish fairies wearing gas masks and, instead of theatrical rehearsals of Pyramus and Thisbe, we see a film-shoot. Bottom is a camp control-freak, setting up shots for the movie rather than scenes for the stage. The actor playing Puck shows great commitment to his role here by sitting in the audience to watch the filming. ‘Rubbish’, he mutters, looking around the crowd for approval.
Although the cast create a fully-formed world, it rarely seems to serve a purpose. In the context of nuclear radiation, the unexplored issue of Bottom’s mutated head feels like a missed trick. This is indicative of the play as a whole: the play’s update into this new context is intriguing, but never really makes a statement other than that it is an update. Because of this lost potential, the efforts of the cast don’t ever pay off completely. This play is definitely a captivating diversion, but it’s not a dream.