The Faction theatre company wastes no time with its new production of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy. Tamarin McGinley’s brilliant Hippolyta is imprisoned in a ring created by her fellow cast members and snarls at her soon-to-be husband Theseus – he wooed with his sword, after all! The startling depiction of their relationship shows a skill at interpreting the text. And the method of using the actors’ bodies rather than props as a cage shows off a signature physical style. Setting out its stall from the get go, this production excites from the very beginning.
Director Mark Leipacher is well aware that the course of true love isn’t supposed to run smooth and injects a tension into the romantic turmoil of the play. When it comes to the Athenian workmen, preparing a play of their own for the nuptial celebrations, the company does just as well with the play’s comedy. Led by Christopher Hughes as Bottom, in blissfully funny thespian form, the transformation into an ass has the cast taking turns as his ears and tail. It’s surprisingly effective and shockingly… sexy. Again, there is an attention to the text that shows an underlying intelligence: this is the first time I’ve been interested in the scene when Bottom is introduced to his fairy attendants.
Physicality is pushed to an extreme at times: the four Athenian lovers, interfered with by magic, end up wrestling one another in the woods – it’s brilliantly done, but you do lose some lines. And with only eight in the cast, the normal doubling of roles becomes a tripling and leads to a truncated finale that loses the witty commentary from those usually watching the show (since the same actors are performing it). But it’s a thrill to see every role embraced by each performer, especially Christopher York, who gets full comic potential out of a trio of parts.
It should be pointed out that a knowledge of the play helps, especially when it comes to the scene changes, crafted using sound and light by Ben Jacobs and Yaiza Varona, respectively – they are beautiful, but might not aid comprehension enough. But the production is full of rewards, with Richard James Neale’s direction of movement continually fascinating and Leipacher’s engagement with the text consistently intelligent. Combined, this is a winning offer and I think it’s magic.
Until 30 June 2018
Photo by The Other Richard