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Purists - Steer Clear

✮✮✮ 1/2

directed by Simon Evans

A little too self-congratulatory at first, director Simon Evans’ two-hour panto-esque entertainment about a comically inept production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream gets better the longer it goes on, and by the end few in the audience will have laughed as loudly at any Shakespeare comedy they've seen before. A few lucky individuals (or poor souls) will also have never been plucked on stage to perform, as they are here (yes, it’s one of those plays). But thanks to Go People and Glass Half Full Productions' energy, inventiveness, chaotic fun and expertly directed silliness, this show yanks a success out of the hat about half way through. It could so easily have been a cringe-fest. Fairly early on, there’s a mock-apology to any “purists” in the audience who are “personally affronted” by “the liberties we have taken” by messing around with the Bard. Indeed, if a slashed script and small jumble of young actors bouncing about playing seventeen different characters fills you with dread, you’d better head to the nearby Globe or the RSC instead which are both showing ‘proper’ full-length versions of this Shakespeare favourite. But some super choreography and movement tuition from Rachel Drazek and Ita O’Brien help the seven actors put on an attention-grabbing performance, which is a great achievement given the deliberate lack of lighting effects, sound (other than voices), scenery or props. Freddie Fox, one of the show's two stars, gives a memorable performance (the other is Maddy Hill of EastEnders fame who plays Titania and Peter Quince). Fox has an incredible amount of work to do playing Demetrius and Bottom, and sweats buckets come the exhilarating finale. His Bottom is far better than his Demetrius, giving unfettered licence to Fox’s over-acting abilities, which go down a storm with the house. The images and sounds of his agonising yet hilarious metamorphosis into an ass will stick in the memory whenever you watch future, more serious productions: plasticine-limbs, contorted face, lolling tongue, spraying spume, excruciating aw-EEs, and a massive donkey member. All without prosthetics or a costume. Part of the reason why this scene is so good is Evans’s direction, which frequently has the cast call upon and help the audience to use its imagination, whether describing a gigantic growing tree in the forest outside Athens or the flower with the magic juice that drives the love-entangled plot. Without spoiling it: because the cast don’t have any props they must improvise the flower, like a many other things in their production. The ingenious solution is very funny, and played for maximum laughs. Freddie Hutchins as a drippy Lysander and Flute is an excellent foil to Fox's characters, including the character of 'Freddie Fox' himself. Their constant bickering as they try to outdo each other provides amusing dramatic continuity in an otherwise ramshackle collection of scenes. Lucy Eaton plays an appropriately brash and slightly scary Helena but impresses more as one of Bottom's mechanicals, Starveling, who she gives a bizarre squeaky Northern accent. Ludovic Hughes is good as Oberon and Theseus and provides a strong directional lead to the six other actors on stage. Designer Adrian Linford's set is convincing as a bare rehearsal studio. Bright house lights glare throughout most of the play. A long traverse stage becomes almost a runway or sports track at times for the actors sprinting up and down it. While this production purports to be made up as it goes along, it becomes clear that Simon Evans' direction and the performers' every move have been meticulously thought through.

photo | ©Tomas Turpie

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