By Danielle Farrow
There is the makings of a fine promenade production here, particularly in the dedication and energy of the Scottish Youth Theatre actors and their casting, which plays well on the strengths and even weaknesses of these young performers.
The Botanic Garden itself provides an apt and beautiful setting for Shakespeare’s story of young lovers, amateur actors and mischievous fairies colliding within the woods of Athens. Fine use was made of Inverleith House, the promenade through trees to different spaces – here leaves and wood for resting, there a grand lawn for a wedding party – and a final backdrop of a fantastic view of Edinburgh, complete with castle and Arthur’s Seat. Also, a moving bower for music to accompany the audience throughout was a great addition and a nice touch before the play had even started saw the audience being greeted by sprites and catching sight of the ‘Mechanicals‘, tradesmen hoping to perform at an important occasion.
Costume was clear and quite rich: grey-blues for the lovers, black with highly colourful details for the somewhat punk fairies, and ye olde style bucolic clothes for the Mechanicals, whose minor characters particularly benefited from detailed characterisation. For the lovers, the twist of Lysander (particularly well-played) being female, introducing a same-sex relationship, was handled with easy charm, and there was great physicality on show when Demetrius and Lysander fought each other and Hermia for the love of Helena. Line-sharing evened out Theseus and Hippolyta’s speaking time and Peaseblossom was developed into a fine partner to Puck. Performances were somewhat uneven, but characters and – for the most part – lines were clear, though there were some cuts which created nonsense sentences.
Unfortunately, there were major problems affecting the production. The time necessary to move a large audience, of varied mobility, around the garden was seriously underestimated: advertised as being one hour long, this performance ran over by 40 minutes, shocking for an outdoor promenade performance (involving much standing) during the Fringe, when many are likely to have other shows booked. One can imagine reasons why – information for the brochure being required before rehearsals are even started, little / no rehearsal in situ, let alone with a fair sized audience, etc – but this is a serious drawback.
Another directorial difficulty, after a good start with choice of areas for visibility, kept people standing for a long time where only half the audience could see what was happening. This affected a dance and key scenes with Bottom and Titania (badly cut) and the lovers in the woods. Also, while dance and song numbers make use of the whole cast, important for such a company, some were overlong for their quality, especially given the excessive running time.
These issues meant that momentum was lost and also interest, despite the energy of the performers, overshadowing the efforts of the company. The scenes themselves, though, showed young actors finding enjoyment in the story, in performance and in some of the great possibilities of the Dream’s varied characters.