The Donkey Show, Proud Camden ★★★★

Reviewed for The Reviews Hub:

Can we put A Midsummer Night’s Dream back in its box for a while now, please? With productions at the RSC, Shakespeare’s Globe, Southwark Playhouse and on BBC1, the appetite for Shakespeare’s mystical comedy must be close to drying up now. Thankfully, the summer’s final adaptation is sufficiently different to tap into those fairy reserves one more time. Subtitled ‘A Midsummer Night’s Disco’, The Donkey Show is a fun-packed hour of raucous hedonism, sung to a bevy of classic floor-filling numbers.

Converting Proud Camden’s dance space into the 1970s Studio 54-style Club Oberon, Randy Weiner and Diane Paulus’ reimagining casts Puck as a roller-skating drag queen emcee, with James Gillan imbuing the character with a flirtatious air as he cruises through some note-perfect renditions of disco standards. The fairies in this production are scantily clad, muscular go-go boys, each adept at pole dancing and aerial hoop work – choreographer Lucy Ridley ensuring that they perform in thrilling unison.

Elsewhere, some canny doubling up, combined with amusingly ludicrous costumes and fake wigs, allow just four women to play all of the abridged story’s roles. There is no Athens here, no Theseus and Hippolyta: nor even any mechanicals to speak of. Instead, the four lovers (renamed Mia, Dmitri, Helen and Sander) fall under Puck’s drug-induced spell, expressing their shifting affections through the medium of disco songs. Of the quartet, Bronté Barbé is the most consistently strong, her dowdy Helen rebuffing her admirers’ amorous advances.

Rather less effective is the recasting of Bottom as a pair of twins, both called Vinnie (Barbé again, and Siobhan Athwal, who also plays Dmitri). While their raucous union with Titania (Melissa Bayern) helps keep the show’s comedy from getting too family-friendly, it is less effective both dramatically and choreographically than the rest of the show’s high standards.

And it is actually quite remarkable how faithful The Donkey Show is to its source material, given so much has been cut out and how, in its duration of little over an hour, most of the story is told through well-chosen songs rather than dialogue. Most importantly, it works: converting a Shakespeare classic into a sexy, immersive disco play-within-a-nightclub produces entertainment that, even for the jaded who thought they had seen one too many productions of this play this year, leaves you wanting more.

Continues until August 21. For more details and booking, visit proudcamden.com

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