Theatre review: Midsummer Mechanicals, a hilarious Mockspeare for kids

The Midsummer Mechanicals is appropriate for ages 6-12 and 25+; at Shakespeare’s Globe, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, till 26 August. Bestest funniest thing ever, go Go GO!

This is a comedy-for-kids spin-off from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, focussing in on Bottom & Co., the band of am-dram labourers, who are still fancying themselves as actors one year later, and have secured another airing before the Duke & Duchess.

Full company of Midsummer Mechanicals at Shakespeare's Globe (c. Manuel Harlan)

Full company of Midsummer Mechanicals at Shakespeare’s Globe (c. Manuel Harlan)

Act 1 is the shambolic preamble to their performance. The impending arrival of the Big Cheeses is a source of increasing terror and Quince kicks himself for ever booking the gig, when it’s So. Incredibly. Stressful. Everything  that possibly could go peare-shaped is: the actors are still bickering about who deserves what roles, those who have turned up that is, there’s a spare assistant lady, but she can’t fill in, it’s illegal, and Bottom’s donkey head is in the shape of an arse, not an ass. The ending isn’t written yet and the band keep getting distracted by sing-alongs and flirting with yummy-mummies in the audience.

Madeleine and Jo in the mini Globe

London Mums’ reporters Madeleine and Jo in the mini Globe

 

Act 2: The arrival of the Grandees galvanises their attention and the play stumbles and trips along, feeling like a kids’ version of Noises Off. It’s a barrage of gags; stand-up, slapstick, malapropisms ‘Welcome, extinguished guests!’, some wonderfully funny mime when Titania is magically pulling Bottom back to her, and Bottom looks as desperate as a swimmer being sucked away by the tide; first he loses control of one leg, and then, his bottom. Och there’s just too much to mention, suffice it to say I got the hysterics, and at some points sat shaking in silence.

There’s masses of audience participation, from weather noises and cussing contests, to playing bunked-off fairies and even deciding the ending. (Because someone had to). The kids shout out like the audience did in Shakey’s times, when they feel like it. It’s rowdy, with heckling, and the actors respond and ad-lib effortlessly.

But amongst all the hilarity, this is also a beautiful intro to Shakespeare, as there’s references to Dream and others of his plays, including proper quotes.  Your children are so lucky to have this soft landing. So at one point Flute is riffing and the following little exchange happens:

F: ‘…Twixt the twain’.

P: ‘Whassat mean?’ (Patience, the lady, interjects, asking the audience with a pained look)

F: ‘It’s poetic, duh.’ (roll of the eyes)

‘Whassat mean?’ I heard that and had a horrid flash-back to my own school days. We may all know that soul-destroying feeling of being dragged through a Shakespeare play too young, page after incomprehensible page (Julius Caesar in my case), having to read out loud, just to compound the humiliation. Hwhy oh Hwhy couldn’t he just have written in PLAIN ENGLISH. Then there was homework; an essay by next week on characterisation, and reciting a chunk from memory while standing facing the class – for tomorrow. Best way I know to kill off all desire to get better acquainted with Shakespeare for a lifetime. Thank goodness we live in more enlightened times – but we must make the most of them!

To the actors, Kerry, Jamal, Sam and Melody; ‘Every one of you was suuuuperb. I love you ALL!’

Madeleine in labourer's overalls with a hint of fairy woodland...

Madeleine in labourer’s overalls with a hint of fairy woodland…

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