Most school kids don't want to read Shakespeare. They would, though, if they had a magnetic teacher like the one who opens this production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. He has something to hide, a secret magical power which puts the very spirit of Shakespeare into his students. Suddenly they are no longer teenagers: they are living Shakespeare's dream, and the results are very good indeed.

The teacher becomes Puck, stealing most of the scenes he appears in. Introducing the fairy world to the audience, he bristles with energy, contorting his body and pulsing as his words become physical. Overacting this is not: there's a zing to Puck which peals through the production, giving it a magic of its own.

The four lovers double as four of the players, along with a wonderfully buffoonish Nick Bottom. His donkey's head (or cap) is never very convincing, but Titania's adoration for it always rings true. Helena, played rather too rationally, shines brighter as a bumbling West Country Peter Quince, while the earnest Lysander becomes a truly ridiculous Thisbe, in a tight-fitting dress and an awful wig. Demetrius and Hermia play similarly opposing dual roles. These transformations juxtapose the lovers and the players interestingly, while keeping the cast small and the acting standard high. A note must also be made here about the execution of the numerous costume changes, which are so quick as to be almost unnoticeable.

The magical aspects of the play are very effective. Love-in-idleness becomes a glowing orb of purple light which flits between Oberon and Puck instantaneously, a trick done so well that I'm still trying to figure it out. No fairies like Mustardseed and Moth appear: instead we are shown kaleidoscopic lights while an electronically altered gurgle of chipmunk voices is played out. Clouds of smoke appear from Puck's claps and Oberon and Titania have a choreographed telekinetic battle. These technical elements transform the basic mesh of the production into a flowing, spellbinding fabric.

The car crash performance of Pyramus and Thisbe is a satisfying contrast to the quality of the preceding acting, but soon both plays are over and we return to the classroom. Luckily, the academic year approaches; students seeking an immersive Shakespeare experience would do well to sign up for this teacher's class before it's fully booked.

Reviews by Larry Bartleet

Underbelly, Cowgate

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★★★★
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The Blurb

Shakespeare’s great comedy retold in a thrilling and slickly edited production which moves from an inner city school detention room to the fantastical world of princes, lovers, forests and fairies, all set in a magical Spiegeltent.