Northern Stage is reputedly the renowned RSC’s ‘home in the north’ and their ties to Newcastle were unmistakeable in this production of ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ as they teamed up with our local groups: The Castle Players and The People’s Theatre. They also brought in St Michael’s Roman Catholic Primary School and Sacred Heart Catholic High School and these fairies were fantastic! The tiny children concentrated very hard on their role spiritedly joined into the dances. The fact that they started early and were out of time just added to the joy on stage. Simply adorable. The ‘Amateurs’ for the night I saw from the Castle Players were excellent and funny especially Peter Cockerill as Bottom. He was loud, brash and brilliantly confident. It’s just a shame that his donkey head, after the transformation, was probably the most amateurish part of play.
Mercy Ojelade, who played Hermia, gave a splendid performance as part of her debut season with RSC. No one could be more convincing with the mixture of timidity, quiet love and murderous rage when her lover strays Helena. She is picked up, thrown about and scrambles across the floor when Puck’s spell leads to everything turning to chaos on stage. The RSC exhibited its tongue-in-cheek hilarity where her love Lysander (Jack Holden) angrily calls her a ‘dwarf’ and Ben Goffe – all three feet of him – as the fairy Mustard Seed sprints past them across the stage. It highlighted the awkwardness of the term simultaneously showing it to be an idiotic used of language and cheekily playful. Ben Goffe was amazing as Mustard Seed and played the role with every fibre of his being every second he was on stage with his enthusiasm and cheerful dedication to the part.
Goffe was only upstaged, in my opinion, by Lucy Ellinson as Puck. She was brilliant. Puck is an excellent character but she really brought that naughty fairy to life. At times the actors moved a staircase on wheels around the stage and the fact that she didn’t fall off impressed me greatly, sliding down bannisters, climbing up and down, clinging to Oberon… I could not take my eyes off her even when other actors were speaking wondering what she would do next. Chu Omambala exuded power as Oberon, I thoroughly believed he controlled the forest as well as he controlled that stage. Despite Oberon being the character I love to hate the attractive pull of Omambala’s manner explains why all the fairies love and fear him so much. In short, he fitted perfectly into the part of the Fairy King.
The strong female characters of Titania (Ayesha Dharker) and Helena (Laura Riseborough) stood out for me. Shakespearean female characters can be so meek and weak willed, even when they are meant to be fiery, that I was so happy to see them give strength and resilience to the characters. Even Helena’s spaniel scene wasn’t wholly demeaning as Riseborough made it seem like she was taking her body and sexuality into her control by offering herself to Demetrius. It was as progressive as this play can be in terms of gender roles. Dharker commanded the stage with a confident superiority that never disappeared even when she was under a spell.
Overall, the RSC delivered and I loved it. The staging was minimal but effective, especially when the forest was set up ready to introduce the fairies, which gave me chills. I would recommend going just once to see these actors and what they can do as they are the height of professionalism and enthusiasm who do the genius of Shakespeare justice.