Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Northern Ballet

Northern Ballet have pulled off another spectacular work with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is showing at Milton Keynes Theatre this week.
Northern BalletNorthern Ballet
Northern Ballet

From the exquisite dancing to the clever set design, via some particularly pretty costumes, the ballet is a delight to behold.

As with many ballets from the more innovative dance companies, the performance is not simply a straight retelling of Shakespeare’s beloved comedy.

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The curtain opens to reveal a ballet studio in which the dancers are preparing for a rehearsal of another of The Bard’s plays, Romeo and Juliet.

The ballet is perhaps a little slow moving at first, with the director continually stopping the rehearsal and music – and, unusually for a ballet, speaking aloud. But after the rehearsal ends the pace picks up.

All is not calm at the rehearsal though because artistic director, Theseus, has decided it is time for his fiancée and principal dancer, Hippolyta, to retire.

As with the playwright’s original work, there are love triangles galore. Even the carpenter, Nick Bottom, is in on the act and falls in love with Hippolyta. And of course Puck, the ballet master, played superbly by Kevin Poeung, also puts his oar in.

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After rehearsal the company boards a train to Edinburgh. At this point the wall of the ballet studio impressively becomes the train in an instant, brought about mainly by a change of lighting and a puff of smoke.

A little toing and throwing later and the train pulls away; a brilliant effect achieved by the movement of the front carriage and the darkening of the stage.

Act two features the dreamworld of Shakespeare’s imagining, with Theseus, now Oberon, King of the Fairies, warring with his Queen Titania (Hippolyta).

At this stage the set includes two beds suspended from the ceiling with sleepers hidden inside awaiting their descent (and amusingly fastened in with safety and safety all round!).

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The fairies have their own powers in this world; Oberon can make the beds levitate and Titania changes the lighting at the balletic wave of a hand.

Oberon sends Puck to find a magic potion that will make Titania fall asleep with the next creature she sees. Puck transforms Nick Bottom into a donkey, complete with an impressive ass’ head and a tail which is put to much comic, and suggestive, use. He leads the donkey to the sleeping Titania and they fall in love.

And this isn’t the only couple that Puck meddles with in the dream!

In the final act the train arrives at its destination and all is right again as the world awakens. Puck finishes the evening with a masterfully given speech from Shakespeare’s original play.

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Mendelssohn’s famous overture and incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream makes up a large part of the score – which is played delightfully by a live orchestra – with his other works and pieces by Prokofiev and Brahms woven in seamlessly.

The ballerinas wore beautiful floating dresses and nightgowns, which must have made the majority of the women in the audience jealous, and the scenery and props were used effectively and without unnecessary fuss, allowing nothing to distract from the dancing.

The ballet was a joy to watch from start to finish and is well worth the trip.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is showing at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday (May 24). Performances are at 7.30pm each evening plus there are matinees at 2.30pm on Thursday and Saturday. Tickets cost from £13.90 to £40.40 plus a booking fee from or from the box office on 08448 717652.