If there’s one thing that warms the cockles of my English tutor heart, it’s teenagers doing Shakespeare. This inaugural production of ShakeDown is a smorgasbord of just that: students from five high schools across Edinburgh, with each school taking an act of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’m a bit biased here; Dream is one of my favourites. And not to sound like someone’s overenthusiastic Drama Auntie, but I love seeing kids get their teeth into it.
Given the variety of performers here, with one character being played by up to five people across the different acts, one thing is inevitable: from an audience perspective, this is not entry-level Shakespeare. The fun comes from watching youngsters get to grips with the language. Some bits of this are better than others; various sets of Mechanicals tuned in well to the Bard’s comic timing. The Forrester High School team in particular had the luck to get the Act V play-within-a play, getting some of the largest laughs from the audience. Other strong performers were the various Peter Quinces.
The higher the speech, however – and the more overt the iambic pentameter and classical references – the more scope there was to get lost in the rhythm of the verse, and for the audience to miss some aspects of what was going on. The four lovers in the Royal High School’s Act IV dealt with this admirably, their bickering thoroughly watchable. In other places, the performers seemed less at ease with the content of what they were saying.
One can only imagine the logistical challenge of turning five geographically spread-out groups of performers into one cohesive play. That’s a structural element of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as well – with several interweaving stories, it’s difficult to weave a consistent thread through all of them. Largely this was done through costume, but perhaps a more strongly marked directorial vision might have made ShakeDown feel more unified. As it was, it felt more like a variety show than a single story. For such an audacious project in its first year, perhaps that’s to be expected – I certainly hope they build on it in the future.
Shakespeare’s twisty plotting and bright humour shone through – a great fit for its young performers. The more broadly these things get shared, the better, as far as I’m concerned. It will be many more years before I get tired of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and in particular of seeing youngsters perform it.
Photos courtesy of Phil Wilkinson.
For more on what’s happening at King’s Theatre, click here.