Spectacular is the word for Northern Ballet Theatre's A Midsummer Night's Dream, with great credit to Duncan Hayler's designs, above all the way he makes a ballet studio turn into the Edinburgh night train. You simply have to see that train for yourself to credit how it moves about the stage, reveals both inside and outside views, and even turns on its side so as to look down on the passengers in their sleeping berths.
But what, you may wonder, are a ballet studio and a railway train doing in A Midsummer Night's Dream? Well, the director-choreographer David Nixon (who recently received critical acclaim for his Madame Butterfly and Wuthering Heights) and his co-director Patricia Doyle have converted all the characters into members of a ballet company, with Theseus their artistic director. Act II of the ballet is his colourful dream: an abbreviated version of Shakespeare's play with him as Oberon. Earlier, the dancers have experienced in black-and-white real life their fictional relationships; then off they go to King's Cross station, to awaken next day at Edinburgh Waverley for a happy ending with multiple weddings.
It is, I think, all a bit too complicated and too protracted, but there is so much activity from the scenery and the performers that you scarcely notice this while it is happening.
What is more of a problem is the music. Naturally, we get Mendelssohn's familiar overture and incidental music to the play, supplemented by bits from his Octet, five of his symphonies and other pieces. But even that was not sufficient, so extracts from two Brahms symphonies have been added, and even snatches of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet for rehearsal scenes.
John Longstaff has done an ingenious job arranging all this, but to make a fully coherent and satisfying score from it was probably beyond any hope.
The characters who come off best in all this are Lysander, Demetrius and their two ladies. Demetrius's spurning of Helena (an enchanting portrait by Pippa Moore) especially brings some unexpected and funny duets, while Jonathan Ollivier and Christopher Hinton-Lewis as the two men both dance their many solos with impressively brilliant stamina, leaping about like mad things.
Presenting Puck (who becomes the ballet master) as a flamboyantly mannered little pipsqueak is a mistake, to my mind; but Bottom (who is now a stage carpenter) is made satisfyingly nimble in spite of a costume bulkily living up to his name, and Adam Temple carries off the role with an attractively puzzled smile. Nixon's choreography doesn't actually do too much for Theseus and Hippolyta, the ostensible leading roles, but Hironao Takahashi and Desiré Samaai make what they can of them; she is sweetly funny in a very naughty duet with Bottom (and Keiko Amemori's Hermia gets up to some plausibly wicked antics, too).
Having to find something for the supporting cast to do has brought in some animated but hardly relevant group numbers, and one or two of the crowd manage to stand out, notably Steven Wheeler as a lanky wardrobe master with a penchant for blond wigs. There were lots of cheers for individual episodes; but I cannot help wishing for a little cutting to make it work better as a whole.
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