Midsummer Night's Dream, Lyric, Hammersmith, London
Tuesday 21 February 2012
The idiosyncratic and richly intentive Filter Company are one of my favourite theatrical outfits.
They operate in two broad strands at a roughly similar level of inspiration. In one of them, they devise new plays that work on many narrative and metaphoric levels and that benefit from their creative speciality, which is using artfully deployed sound to sound the depths of a dramatic situation. Though it featured in none of the end-of-year best play lists, one of the finest works of 2011 was Filter's Silence, a piece that rivalled Complicite's talent for fusing the emotional and the conceptual as it followed two overlapping quests in Britain and Eastern Europe. In the other strand, instanced by their acclaimed productions of Twelfth Night and Three Sisters, they take a classic and pull its corsets off, so to speak, in deliberately rough and indecorous re-mix of the play that at once defamilarises it, making it more accessible to newcomers, and resensitises older hands to its particular virtues.
The topsy-turviness of Illyria was compounded in their excellent Twelfth Night in an atmosphere that crossed carnival with boozy rock gig and the sickness of self-love was given a modern twist by a narcissistic Malvolio who played embarrassing air guitar and gazed in a mirror. Filter's current Midsummer Night's Dream, once again directed by Sean Holmes, has a lot going for it, too, so I am hard put to put my finger on why I enjoyed it less and found it less revealing than the company's earlier shows. It can't be, as I initially thought, that Shakespeare gazumps their approach in this play with the raucous slapstick of the misalligned lovers, the farce with the love juice, and the ludicrous comic incompetence of the mechanicals as they perform their "Pyramus and Thisbe" interlude. Twelfth Night, after all, has built-in anarchy.
The fairy bower is a grotty, tiled bathroom. The love juice is staining blue bath gel squirted on to the eyes; Jonathan Broadbent's endearing, bespectacled Oberon looks like the Milky Bar Kid disguised as Superman; Ferdy Roberts's butch, stroppy Puck bursts through an upstage wall. I'm not allowed to say who portrays Bottom but think back to the Morecambe and Wise meta-show The Play What I Wrote. Uncharacteristically, the show feels pleased with itself out of proportion to its comic discoveries. There's a spectacular food-fight which puts the humble orange Sainsbury's bag in a new light. An anxious Irish Quince tells us at the start that in one hour and 42 minutes "You'll be wishing you'd gone to see One Man, Two Guvnors." They must be very confident that no one will call their bluff.
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