Hit and miss at times – but ultimately it’s on target

by Shane Dillon
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IRISH theatre company Pan Pan, famous for its bold exploration of dramatic form which challenges traditional theatre, has not disappointed in its latest production – A Midsummer Night’s Dream – that is currently running in The Abbey Theatre.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is Shakespeare’s fanciful romp about the fairy world’s interference in the love lives of mortals.
It is traditionally a play to celebrate spring, love, Queen Elizabeth 1 and – above all – youth. This tradition is utterly turned on its head in this new production, with all the main characters being elderly and their village, a retirement home.
Hermia (played by Aine Ni Mhuiri) is the object of the affections of both Lysander (John Kavanagh) and Demetrius (Barry McGovern).
Hermia loves Lysander, though her son, Egeus/Peter Quince (David Pearse), takes the parental role by insisting his mother marry Demetrius instead.
Demetrius is beloved by Helena (Gina Moxley), though her love is savagely unrequited. They all live together in the nursing home, which is run by Theseus/Oberon (Declan Conlon) and Hippolyta/Titania (Fiona Bell).
This pair double as the king and queen of the fairies, Oberon and Titania, who through the agency of a love potion, become inadvertently responsible for making both Demetrius and Lysander fall in love with Helena instead.

This Abbey production is largely enjoyable and the acting, in the main, is first-rate, which is an absolute prerequisite for making Shakespeare accessible and easily understood in a modern setting.
The role of Lysander in particular is very well executed by Kavanagh, and Moxley does a fine job playing the non-plussed and abused Helena.
The fairy world scenes are not nearly as effective as the real-world scenes in the nursing home, which are often hilarious.
Great comic use is made of the elderly scenario, with walking sticks doubling for swords and the like.
The funniest part of the play is delivered by Peter Quince and his band of merry actors, who attempt to put on a diverting playlet for the fairy king and queen.
Pearse (Quince) has strong comedic talent and each time he stepped on the stage, the audience seemed immediately poised for a good belly-laugh.
Another of his comedy troupe, Andrew Bennet – who plays Nick Bottom, the unfortunate recipient of an ass’s head – is very engaging and full of fun in the part.
Pan Pan always throws in something unexpected in its productions and is very tuned into the zeitgeist of modern life.
A wonderful example of this was a physical fight between Hermia and Helena. The two repeated the same aggressive movements over and over, creating the image of a very funny “living gif” animation.

All told, though a bit hit and miss at times, this is a successful reinterpretation of Shakespeare and shows, above all, that Irish actors and audiences have a huge affinity with The Bard.
Famous for the line: The course of true love never did run smooth, the play, though largely a fantastic romp, really does explore how arbitrary and often fickle love can be.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at The Abbey until March 28 and tickets, available from the Abbey box office at www.abbeytheatre.ie, range from €13 to €40.
The play lasts for around two and a half hours, and begins at 7.30pm, from Monday to Saturday, with matinees at 2pm on Wednesday and Saturday.

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