English musical based on a Midsummer Night’s Dream

English musical based on a Midsummer Night’s Dream

Robert Tanitch reviews The Dreaming at Union Theatre, London SW1

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM is such an obvious choice for a musical that I am surprised it hasn’t been done before. There have been a number of operas, of course, most notably by Henry Purcell, John Frederick Lampe and Benjamin Britten and there was a time in the Victorian era when The Dream and Mendelssohn were inseparable.

Howard Goodall’s tuneful Dreaming was commissioned by the National Youth Musical Theatre and premiered in 2001. The book and lyrics are by Charles Hart who follows the story-line but jettisons Shakespeare completely. Since the plot has been updated to 1915 it is strange there is no mention of the First World War,

Nick Bottom is now Nick Cheek; but his transformation into an ass is meaningless. The play he and the villagers perform, “The Banner of Saint George”, directed by the local vicar, is a poor substitute for “Pyramus and Thisbe” and not nearly as funny. Puck is now Jack and played by a woman, a retrograde step.

Robert Tanitch logoDemetrius, Lysander, Hermia and Helena are now David, Alexander, Charlotte and Jennifer. The comic high spots are Joshua Tonks as David telling Jennifer (Rachel Flynn) he doesn’t love her and Alastair Hill  as Alexander  telling her he does, obsessively so, repeating her name over and over and over again..

Paul Clarkson’s production and Helen Rymer’s choreography keep the cast constantly on the move, darting in and out of the in-the-round space. The musical number which really stops the show is the “Cuckoo Song”.

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