A Midsummer Night’s Zoom

It’s Friday night and at last, we’re off the Octagon again. It’s time to get going.

Except we’re not actually going to the theatre. The questions aren’t will we get through the traffic and will we get a parking space but will the Wi-Fi hold out and why isn’t the computer charging? The breakfast bar in the kitchen has a bottle of red wine waiting.

All is well. The technology works. At 7.30pm exactly, the magic begins.

The Octagon Theatre Bolton and the Guildford Shakespeare Company have worked together to bring the production to theatre lovers. The Octagon’s Artistic Director, Lotte Wakeham, has directed this online version.

Performing via Zoom presents challenges. Zoom is only as ever as good as the equipment at either end. A couple of times a screen freezes. Once or twice we are told our internet is unstable. And yet, somehow, that delay that even the big TV channels can’t overcome just isn’t there. The timing on lines is immaculate. Is this the way the Bard himself meant them to be delivered? Is this good mastering of the technology? Superb directing? Also so clever: a character looks towards another on her right and hands them an object that suddenly appears on the left of the recipient’s screen.  I sense “technical rehearsal” takes on a whole new meaning here.  A pleasing variety of background screens enable the characters to move freely through time and space.

Best of all, we forget we are watching via Zoom.

The play is abridged a little and takes about seventy-five minutes. This three-layered story has been transported to 1967, the summer of love. The Mechanicals are construed as an amateur dramatic group who in real life appear as cleaners.  Lysander carries a camera. There is a reference to Shredded Wheat. A paper aeroplane is thrown. Do references to the 20th century that some of us remember make the play more real? Do we experience it then as Shakespeare’s original audience would have done?

There are just six cast members: Misha Duncan-Barry, Emma Fenney, Sarah Gobran, Nathan Ives-Moiba, Matt Pinches, Jack Whitam and so they each take on multiple roles. There are a few quick costume and background changes. All runs smoothly.

This production is inspired by Andrew Riley’s original set and costumes designs for Guildford Shakespeare Company’s 2017 outdoor production.

The Octagon’s website doesn’t give quite as much information about the team as we get in the printed programme. I miss that a little.

Yet there is still a great feeling of being at a live performance. We are invited to wave and fly, and some of us appear on the screen. The actors come into our own homes. They take their bows and reveal their green screens at the end of the performance.

I applaud the Octagon for this initiative. Once this pandemic is over we want the theatres to be able to continue. Might this help them to be able to do that? And might it be something that they could in future run alongside their normal activities? I hope so, because this was most definitely fun.

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