'A Midsummer Night's Dream in New Orleans' or 'Pucktastic!'

'A Midsummer Night's Dream in New Orleans', Ruby in the Dust
Arts Theatre Upstairs, 12th August 2015
Reviewed for Time Out 

Shakespeare’s ‘fairy comedy’ always pops up in the summer, and it’s usually a flower-strewn, sunlight-dappled and light-hearted affair. Not so with Ruby in the Dust’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream in New Orleans’, which is set in a crumbling jazz café and the sprawling Louisiana bayous. The play rumbles with racial tensions, voodoo rituals and impromptu jazz sessions. It’s sometimes hideously off-key but it’s great to see such a risky show, that’s happy to riff so freely off the original. 

Everything about director Linnie Reedman’s smoky production is dark, mysterious and even a tad malicious. The fairies are frightening, Belle Mundi’s costumes verge on the macabre and the music – including songs by Dr John and Louis Armstrong – trembles with melancholy. 

Fairy King Oberon (David Monteith) and Fairy Queen Titania (Silvana Maimone) look like haunted jazz singers – with an unhealthy interest in voodoo magic.  Oberon’s fairy, Puck (Sid Phoenix), has a chalky skeletal face and gleaming red eyes. His sinister presence stalks the production. This is a Puck who takes great pleasure in wreaking havoc and many of his scenes, particularly those involving the four lost lovers, sting with fresh cruelty. 

This is a sophisticated interpretation, but not everything works well. The mechanicals feel far too crude and the musicians (barring pianist Joe Evans) simply aren’t good enough. A lot of the Bard’s best lines are swallowed up by dodgy southern accents and the final dumb show is painfully dull. But there’s magic and intrigue – and plenty of surprises – in this moody ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.


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