ALL-MALE theatre troupe Propeller are unapologetic about their stance on Shakespeare.
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Director Edward Hall describes their attitude to the Bard thus: “We don’t want to make the plays ‘accessible’ as this implies they need ‘dumbing down’ in order to be understood, which they don’t.”
And he’s right, it is this investment in reproducing A Midsummer Night’s Dream as closely to the original, but with modern, abstract set and costume design, that ironically makes it all the more accessible to a casual viewer who may be shy of revisiting the story after nap-inducing read-throughs at school.
In fact, Propeller have toured their take on Shakespeare’s plays all over the world to popular acclaim, which implies that they must be far more comprehensible than they’d like to admit.
In contrast to all those stuffy 80s BBC adaptations with John Nettles enunciating his lines perfectly, slowly, measuredly, Propeller get back to the bawdy, pacy, flirtatious Elizabethan dash of the original work. The set is minimalist, a plain white netted backdrop lined with chairs, with plenty of room for the performers to explore the stage. They deliver the script at breakneck speed, which maintains momentum beautifully, but one wonders if they’ve now performed the play so many times that they’re racing through it to get to the end rather than merely working to the rhythm of the poetry. There are places where a pause for nuance or a slower delivery for emphasis on certain speeches would lend a greater sense of gravity to the story.
Music, sound effects and English folk songs chosen by sound designer David Gregory to blend with the script, are performed on stage by the cast to enhance the sense of the company creating their own magical world on stage.
The company also bask in Shakespeare’s love of theatricality and fascination with the mechanics of theatre, allowing the actors to really convey what they see as the core of their character, rather than working to the director’s overall vision. The play within a play, Pyramus and Thisbe, is the highlight of the night, the cast’s slapstick antics inducing uproarious laughter among the audience. If only your English teacher had dragged you to this all those years ago.
• Run ends Saturday