‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ follows four main plots: the wedding of the king of Athens; the complicated love affairs between four young Athenians; a ragtag company of actors preparing a play; and the king and queen of fairies that meddle with mortals. Jazz Hands Productions have crafted a radio version of it which is both competent and engaging. It obviously faces some limitations: the lack of visuals can sometimes fail to hold the audience’s attention, but this production is careful not to bore its listeners, mixing sound effects with great acting.
The format does not lend itself well to such a confusing plot, especially where multiple characters interact during the same scene. But the entire cast has very distinctive voices and modulates them well according to the situation, avoiding potential misunderstandings in the listener – even one without much knowledge of the play. The actors convey emotions clearly and precisely, and, although at times one might wonder what a certain tone or phrase means – without the aid of facial expressions it can be difficult to tell – the rest of the dialogue always provides clarification. However, these moments of perplexion occur very sporadically throughout the play.
The actors’ performances are great overall, with the relationships between characters clearly portrayed. Oberon (Gemma Daubeney) and Titania (Darcy Dixon) play a very turbulent and intense rendition of the couple, alternating with ease between jealous, temperamental, and loving. Similarly, the love quadrangle is dynamic and fun to listen to, with all the misunderstandings and the constant fights. Of particular merit is a scene of confrontation between Hermia (Ellie Cooper) and Helena (Katie Friedli Walton), who bring great physicality to their argument, not an easy task when voice acting. Puck (Zakkai Goriely) is also deliciously mischievous and offers an incredibly entertaining performance, while still presenting the audience with more serious and thoughtful moments.
The supernatural element was handled very well. For a play where no costuming, makeup, or staging can aid with the characterisation of fantastical creatures, it does a lovely job of portraying magic and fairies. Their delicate eeriness is captured well by the voice actors, who clearly portray the playful and impish attitude of the fairies towards the human world. They meddle with it, and while they have a hierarchy within their society, they all consider themselves as superior to humans. The music also helps to create this magical atmosphere, with the fairy song being both beautiful and uncanny.
The ending of the play is very satisfying, as all of the characters’ stories come together when watching a play within the play. The mechanicals – the production team, if we will, that performs it – put up a terrible ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’. It is a note of merit how all the actors involved manage to sound so helplessly incapable of acting, while still maintaining great comedic timing. Blunders are shown through stuttering lines, horrible falsettos, and general chaos that makes it a thoroughly enjoyable listen. Bottom/Pyramus (Dorothy McDowell) in particular showcases his oblivious arrogance in such a naïve and unassuming way that the listener cannot help being very amused by his endless boasts. The transitions between scenes are skillfully shown through sound effects and music, and the sound editor, Jonny Budd, expertly captures the listener’s attention. Songs are incorporated seamlessly within the dialogue, and background music is often present. While it may go unnoticed at first, it undoubtedly helps to set the emotional context. Fading voices into the background to bring characters at the forefront of the scene – tricks that usually are played out through physical movement – create and maintain a dynamic play.
Overall, this is an excellent radio play, with a talented cast and crew, bringing emotion and intentionality to every line, handling tense moments as well as lighthearted ones with great competence.