THEATRE / Dream Bottom

Click to follow
First we see the 'rude mechanicals' at work, all concentrating on their crafts with their tools tapping out a rhythmic accompaniment. In the setting of this huge old mill-room, we recognise that these are serious men and that it is in their arena that the play is to take place.

Thus it is not only they who speak in funny northern accents: the Athenian nobles and the denizens of fairyland sound just 'as well derived'. This punctures the sentimentalising notion of the north as the home of rich vowels and warm hearts. To have set up Theseus, Egeus and the rest of the court with accents as sharply faceted as their attitudes, would have been to pretend that the heartless law of Athens is never heard in a northern timbre. Northern Broadsides are claiming Shakespeare for this setting and their own voice - and, as previously, they make their point. To hear 'I know a bank where the wild thyme blows' in the scoops of Barrie Rutter's Yorkshire is not an exciting novelty, it just sounds right.

That said - as so often with the Dream - Bottom and Co all but steal the show. The young lovers have terrific vigour but are almost torrential in some speeches, and even Ishia Bennison's striking Hippolyta / Titania could benefit from some let-up in the verbal pace.

The centrality of the workmen is made more prominent by their doubling as the fairies. This is not an original idea, and indeed is a necessary economy these days. But here, with Jessica Worrall's morris costumes, they plausibly adapt the promiscuous mingling of gods and human beings characteristic of the Greek world to an English setting. They also provide, with Andrew Cryer's Puck, a Busy Jack who is at least as knavish as Cupid, a welcome escape from fey tradition.

Each workman is beautifully characterised: Roy North, lips moving over his clipboard, as the conscientious Quince; Francis Lee's Snug makes a touching Lion, too sweet to be embarrassed by the bit of mane which serves as a codpiece. John Branwell's Bottom is very funny, and he moves stones alright, as he promises. But he does so finally with finesse as his grief-stricken Pyramus stills the house. The courtiers lay him and Thisby tenderly together, a moving action that is wholly earned. Such is the rudeness of mechanicals.

At Manor Mill, Oldham until 11 Sept, then touring. Details: 0422 369704