AMI JONES has watched a play, past the wit of critic to say what play it was.

Cambridge Arts Theatre, 21st-25th February, 7.45pm, £15-25

Directed by Kate Sagovsky

[rating: 4/5]

Fate has a funny old way of ordering the articles you choose to publish. Just my luck that after presenting a scathingly elegant argument in praise of my craft, I’m delivered with the hardest review of my short, glittering career.

The play’s aesthetic is stunning. One expects nothing less of the annual Marlowe and their professional director, of course, but Kate Sagovsky and her technical team deserve praise for dreaming up (hur hur) a concept which is unapologetically contemporary while still creative and imaginative. Well – for the most part, but we’ll save the bloodshed for later.

Photos by Sana Ayub

Of the three neatly-separated worlds – lovers, Mechanicals, fairies – the first was the one which really earned the stars at the top of this review. Charlotte Quinney, Will Attenborough, James Parris and Ellie Nunn were an astonishingly adept ensemble as the four young lovers at the heart of the piece.

The sprawling four-way fight that happens at the very middle was beautifully slick and hilarious, with the hands-down-best fourth-wall jokes I’ve ever seen. This alone would have been enough, but it was the fact that Sagovsky managed to tease out the genuine anguish and heartbreak driving the entire scene which pushed the quartet into real greatness.

Ellie Nunn delivered the standout performance of the night, encapsulating all that was good about the production. She did exactly what is demanded of a Shakespearean actor – take lines which have been carelessly brushed over after 400 years of familiarity and press them into life again.

The Mechanicals were instantly charming and receive much kudos from me – making ancient jokes funny again is tough. It was very much hit-and-miss, but the onslaught was so enthusiastically relentless that ultimately the hits had far more impact than the misses.

Alex MacKeith shouldered the epic role of Bottom well, though the character was occasionally sacrificed in favour of trying to fit in more gags – he was at times paradoxically too good a performer to be a plausible Bottom. Indeed, the whole group of them had the knack of carrying things on a bit too long.

Things fell apart, however, whenever the fairies made an appearance. I could have liked a lot of the things Sakovsky tried – the weird physical-movementy thing she attempted in particular could have worked, but there was just too much going on, and frankly the underlying performances weren’t strong enough to support it.

The stark simplicity which made the modernisation of lovers and the Mechanicals work was lost and drowned in incomprehension. I later learned that Sagovsky is largely a movement director, which explained a lot – clearly the actors had rehearsed their arses off doing flips and tricks, but all it really amounted to was distracting amateur acrobatics. And ultimately this detracted from what really mattered and what really needed work – the textual performance.

Mateo Oxley’s Oberon made little to no impact, and his camp wriggling was more giggle-inducing than unsettling or creepy or whatever it was meant to be. Harry Carr also certainly looks like a great Puck, but seemed to be riding on good visual casting alone, which was disappointing.

I’ll venture to say that, at its best, the play contained some of the best theatre this term. I guess in a funny way it’s a tribute to the fantastic disjointedness of the piece that I managed to simultaneously be dazzled and disappointed by it. But the course of true criticism never did run smooth.

  • Spell Check

    Suggest you use it. x

    • Dictionary

      What's she got wrong? I've just read it through twice, I dun see it…

      • Maybe

        *Mateo? One "t".. tis all I see

        • Maybe Not

          Mateo Oxley is his name. With one 't'. Good effort, better luck next time.

          • Marlowe

            Director and two cast members, though she has now changed it so Spell Check just looks like a dick.

  • Anna431

    I absolutely agree with everything Ami has said, although I might add that the fairies were truly terrible speaking as well as moving. Never has 'And I, And I, And I' been so wooden or unfunny.

    • WVS

      Disagree but I guess it wasn't stylistically to everyone's taste. The audience yesterday gave it a standing ovation though.

      • hmmm

        yeah they gave it a standing ovation on the night I went to see it too

  • doneitagain

    Agreed, Ellie Nunn performed brilliantly but I also saw Oxley’s performance of Oberon as simply stunning. The relationship between him and Carr, I (and going by the rapturous applause I am not alone), thought was masterfully acted on both parts. Seems to be another bizarre review with malicious undertones. But hey, it wasn’t all bad, one aspect of this review I did enjoy was the sarcasm Ami employed in her introduction. Let’s hope, for the benefit of Cambridge’s rich heritage amateur theatre, that this reviewer’s ‘glittering’ career remains ‘short’.

    • Cast Member

      I don't believe you. I saw this play and I honestly don't believe any neutral person would describe that oberon as 'masterfully' acted.

      Malicious undertones? You mean… criticism? It's a FOUR STAR REVIEW. It's very positive, and not as critical of the fairies as it should have been. They were very badly done, particularly puck and oberon.

      • andagain

        Is it that much of a challenge for both of you to accept that you have different opinions?

      • Harlequin

        Puck, maybe. Oberon? Certainly not. To do that much physical (impressive) work whilst still managing to be captivating during the monologues is pretty fucking impressive by my book. I think the direction of his character is up for debate here more than the actors ability, frankly. The Faeries were in fairness relatively weak but I really don't think Oberon was.

    • JWL

      I totally agree that Oxley was stunning! To describe his performance as “camp wriggling” is just pathetic. How easy it is to cruel.

  • doneitagain

    Agreed. Totally accept everyone has a different opinion. Just what I thought when I saw it on the night.