MSND Intermission Youth Theatre

Review: MSND, Intermission Youth Theatre

Review: MSND, Intermission Youth Theatre

“Great evening’s theatre.” Review by Jenny Booth.


Intermission Youth Theatre has smashed it out of the park again with an utterly distinctive remix of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream based on the themes of mischief and intoxication. Under the influence of a party drug called MSND, doled out by a swaggering Puck (Maryse Baya), the unfortunate humans see visions of fairies, fall in love with the wrong person, and are the victims of continued pranks which make the supernaturals roar with laughter. There’s no stuffy Athenian court, Theseus (Kevin Ofusuhene) and Hippolyta (Brie-Morgan Appleton) are merely the older ringleaders of a bunch of school-leavers pairing up for their ‘Showcase’ summer party; while instead of a stuffy dad, Egeus (Takudzwa Mabhunu) is a thoughtful and sympathetic brother who doesn’t like the way the boys are taking bets whether they can pull his sister, Hermia. Bottom is a neeky kid with a show-off streak and a strict Jamaican dad. It is audacious, imaginative, delivered in IYT’s trademark mash-up of street language and Shakespeare. It works, brilliantly; and it gets to the heart of the play, making sense of its mischievous, pranksterish spirit in a way few productions achieve.

Often, directors layer a theme over the top of a Shakespeare play, in the hopes that setting them in, for example, the second world war, will perform some alchemy with the language and make Shakespeare appear relevant to today. IYT’s directors Darren Raymond and Nana Antwi-Nyanin turn this on its head. They choose their cast, often from teenagers with poor or troubled backgrounds with no experience of acting, and work with them for weeks through improvisation and classes, until the group gels. Only then do they choose a play, adapting it to the characters and themes that have emerged from the group. Two sets of actors are cast, so everyone gets a chance. Speaking after the show, Nyah T Campbell (a self-possessed and outspoken Hermia) and other actors explained how developing a character as an extension of their own personality ensured it was authentic and grounded in reality. This really tells in the performances. In addition, leading industry professionals including Mark Rylance, an IYT patron, offer intensive coaching in acting skills.

As Oberon (Judah Meade) repents of his mean trick on his lush and dignified queen Titania (Lylas Flora), the production shifts to themes of sobering up and redemption. The character of Helena (Valerie Olweny) emerges with the most dignity and poise after the night’s antics. These annual Shakespeare productions at the Chelsea Theatre are becoming a highlight of my theatregoing year for the energy and imagination and enjoyment they generate. Go to see MSND to have your preconceptions challenged on a lot of fronts, Go to be inspired by the sheer potential of the young actors, who clearly appreciate and benefit from the warm, family atmosphere that IYT generates. But above all, go for a great evening’s theatre

Chelsea Theatre, until 3 December

Image credit: Rakiya Hasan