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A Midsummer Night's Dream

Director: Emily Bowles

Performances:
22nd-27th January 2018

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A Midsummer Night's Dream is perhaps only rivalled by Twelfth Night as Shakespeare's most enduringly-popular comedy, and has produced a wealth of artistic spin-offs including films, operas, other plays and television series inspired by it.

On the eve of his wedding day to Hippolyta, Duke Theseus of Athens receives a request from his courtier Egeus. Egeus wishes his daughter Hermia to marry Demetrius, even though she is in love with Lysander and he with her. Egeus demands that Theseus impose the Athenian law on his daughter: either to obey her father, or face death or the rest of her life in a convent (times being rather different in Ancient Athens, at least according to Shakespeare!).

Theseus decides to think on the matter overnight. Hermia and Lysander then make plans to elope. Hermia's best friend Helena arrives and reveals she is in love with Demetrius. They tell her they are leaving for the woods outside Athens that evening. After they go Helena decides - not very loyally to her friend! - to tell Demetrius their plans, chiefly as an excuse to go and see him.

Elsewhere in the city a group of artisans - Peter Quince, Nick Bottom, Flute, Snout, Snug and Starveling - are meeting to discuss performing a play, as their entry in a general competition to provide entertainment at Theseus' wedding celebrations. They make plans to go and rehearse in the woods that night so that no other groups may see what they are up to.

In the woods Oberon and Titania - the king and queen of the fairies - are having a custody dispute about 'a little changeling boy'. Both are there to attend and bring good fortune to Theseus' and Hippolyta's nuptuals. They meet and part on bad terms, and Oberon swears to be revenged on Titania for crossing him.

He orders his spirit-servant Puck to find a flower whose pollen can lay a charm on anyone, making them instantly fall in love with the next person they see.

The lovers and the 'Mechanicals' all head to the woods. Oberon witnesses Demetrius rudely spurning Helena's attempt to woo him. He tells his servant Puck  to use some of the flower's dust on Demetrius so he will fall in love with Helena. Meanwhile Oberon is going to use it on Titania, to make her fall in love with something monstrous.

Puck is just about the most unreliable servant anyone could ask for, and has a strong sense of mischief-making anyway. He stumbles upon Lysander (not Demetrius) and Hermia asleep - and anoints Lysander's eyes. By chance it is Helena who wakes him. He chases after her, abandoning the sleeping Hermia.

The Mechanicals arrive to rehearse 'The lamentable comedy and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe'. Titania is asleep close by. Puck turns Bottom's head into that of an ass, causing all the others to flee terrified. The noise of his braying wakes Titania and she promptly falls in love with this half man-half donkey!

Oberon is delighted when Puck tells him what has befallen Bottom and Titania, but then Hermia enters looking for Lysander, being followed by Demetrius. It is soon clear that Puck has 'anointed' the wrong Athenian! Hermia flees and Oberon 'charms' Demetrius to sleep and lays the flower on his eyes. Then Helena arrives being pursued by the smitten Lysander, and the noise they make as she tries to fight off his unwanted attentions wakes Demetrius.

Soon after, the distracted Hermia arrives and discovers that the tables have now been turned completely: the two young men so madly in love with her that morning are now madly in love with her childhood friend! The scene that follows is one of the most comic, poignant and poetic Shakespeare ever penned.
 
This Midsummer Night's madness all finally resolves itself into a happy ending, rounded off with the absurdly comic performance of 'Pyramus and Thisbe' the next day.
Bottom as Ass graphic