Students of Cambridge University have reinterpreted Shakespeare's popular comedy, putting a darker spin on the story. Though this is a clever production with a lot of thought into questioning the form of Shakespearean comedy, there are aspects of the production that let it down.
The ideas alone make this a good show
The set and costumes are very striking and effective, with a huge black tree dominating the stage. However, this huge tree leaves little room for the actors during large ensemble scenes, which makes them look rather squashed. The thrust staging is effective in making the audience feel involved as Puck flits among us. The problem with such a large structure on stage is that much of the action is obscured from certain angles.
That said, some very good casting decisions have been made. For example, the character of Lysander has been made female, which adds a darker reading to the Athenian death sentence, should Hermia refuse to wed Demetrius. What lets this down, however, is a clumsy bit of script editing. As Demetrius is the only male lover, when Puck is instructed to 'anoint his eyes' with love potion, there is no reason for Puck to confuse Demetrius with Lysander. A similar editing issue exposes itself when Helena begins to refer to Hermia as 'puppet' and 'dwarf.' This scene is regularly a comic highlight of the play as the two women insult each other over their difference in height. In this production, as the two characters are exactly the same size, this exchange seems completely redundant.
For the most part, the actors all put on a great performance, Puck in particular gives a delightfully mischievous performance. At times, however, projection does become an issue, particularly for Hermia – her lines are spoken so quietly that many times they can barely be heard.
The big question with this production is: does it work? The final act featuring the jolly workmens' play and the typical Shakespearean weddings has been cut, which though necessary for this production, does make the ending rather anticlimactic. The show does not seem to end so much as just stop. There was a lot of confusion as to whether or not it was time to clap as the lights went down.
The darkest aspect of this production seems to be that most of the characters are angry, all the time. The script is naturally funny so without rewriting, the production appears to be a comic script delivered in an angry manner that doesn't carry the emotion of a tragedy nor the humour of a comedy.
I think an interpretation like this may work with more careful thought. It is a commendable effort and with a little reworking it could be very effective. The imagination is certainly there and the ideas alone make this a good show, but a little more direction would make this production fantastic.