YOU meet at 8pm at The Golden Fleece in Pavement, York’s most haunted pub, Your hosts are Nightshade Productions, the theatre wing of the York Terror Trail, the alternative guides to York’s history.
Writer, director and University of York sociology graduate Damian Freddi and producer Amos Jacob have created an equally alternative revamp of Shakespeare’s most performed comedy, the one with the wall now set among York’s ancient walls.
Taking A Midsummer Night’s Dream outdoors is nothing new but taking it for a walk through the urban jungle of modern-day York rather than into Elizabethan forest clearings and glades is inspired fresh terrain.
Your host for the night will be the masked, dapperly frock-coated gent Robin Goodfellow (Ben Rosenfield), the alter ego for an older Puck. Urbane, cynical, even sinister, he is a trouble-brewing, meddling social commentator with entirely new, modern dialogue courtesy of Freddi.
You will meet Young Puck later and she’s female (Vikki Touzel) although still referred to as “he”, running around in short dungarees, with syringes extending from the fingers and thumb of one hand and a surfeit of desire.
The Fairies – “a world of fickle politics and treacherous half-smiles” – have become viruses of our age: assistant director Richard Watson ’s Mustardseed is fretfully obsessed with Health Scares, wittering warnings from behind a Japanese air mask outside St Crux Church, in our age of Health and Safety pedantry.
Lord Cobweb (Samuel Bourne) is now the ringmaster of the media circus with a “voice that can topple governments”; Mistress Moth (a silent, gauze-eyed Lizzy Whynes) is the party dress-wearing, pink balloon-carrying Fairy of Consumerism; and Heather Stewart’s Peaseblossom is dressed for war.
The Rude Mechanicals – Sophie Chollerton’s weight-concerned Peter Quince, Electra Carr’s tomboy Snug and Ben Rowley’s stand-out Nick Bottom among them – are puppets in their world. Their behaviour is influenced by these viruses on the city streets – unseen by the Mechanicals but seen by the audience – in a series of newly written “micro-scenes” enacted as you are led from scene to scene, from the Unitarian Chapel to St William’s lawns, the Minster steps, Barley Hall forecourt and a spot-lit, empty Newgate market.
The Grecian young lovers (Charley Hall, Jake Botterell, Stuart H and Riana Duce) maximise the quick-fire physical and verbal clashes with speeding energy; James Whitchwood’s haughty Oberon, first encountered from on high on Stonebow House, has the arrogance of too much wealth. Beauty is personified in Emma Osman’s regal, mysterious and love-struck Titania.
Freddi’s exuberantly playful production is politically and socially witty, unruly yet well organised, appropriately meddlesome and consistently surprising, usually intentionally so, but defying even the sudden loud interjection of roadworks in Colliergate.
Love is manipulated to the point where romance is almost squeezed out, but Nightshades’ streets are alive with magic, choreographed chaos and the baggage of 21st century Britain.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Nightshade Productions, York city centre, tomorrow until July 29. Box office: 01904 623568 or on the night.