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A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Southwark Playhouse

Elizabeth Peasley

Once again Southwark Playhouse hosts innovative and interesting drama.

As the winter weather bites it may seem strange to enter Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream which is often associated with open air productions and the like; but this is no ordinary or predictable tale of fairies set loose in the Midsummer woods. It is Shakespeare Japanese style with a dynamism and energy that will have you smiling and alert even though many adults know the story well.

It is fast moving with a minimal and effective set. The action is largely on a central 'runway' type tiered stage with the audience on either side. Japanese theatre traditions are employed to the full with graceful dance, poised positions, masks and some very skilled and impressive 'knockabout ' routines.

The scene in act two when the two young love struck girls, Hermia and Helena
(played by Nina Kwok and Julia Sandiford) are fighting, sounded like two real foxes screeching in the night (only too familiar for those of you with these urban neighbours); likewise they threw themselves at each other with startling force. The tall Helena screamed O! when she's angry she is keen and shrewd. She was a vixen when she went to school. And though she be but little, she is fierce.

There is much humour and this is very well portrayed throughout. Look out for the mechanicals all of whom are heart warming. The actors expertly double up as two characters, changing costumes and appearing seamlessly.

The Japanese language serves well as magical speak for the fairy world although sometimes the shift to English for Theseus/Oberon (played by Kenji Watanabe) is a challenge to understand. This does not distract too much, as his stature and the gravitas of the ensemble cast, together with the momentum of the production make the whole evening a memorable piece of theatre.

This is Shakespeare with a difference brought to us by the acclaimed British Chinese theatre director Jonathan Man. Older and younger audiences should admire this play; it provides opportunity for thought and discussion around style and context and an enjoyable experience for all.

• The winner of this year's Better Bankside Shakespeare Award, this production is being presented to over 1,500 local school children completely free of charge,

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