|'There's a strong whiff of Davies' Doctor Who tenure here: with its handily placed touchscreens and SFX-enhanced fairies, Kerr's Athens could easily be mistaken for somewhere David Tennant's timelord once landed his TARDIS'.|
From the very first moments of his version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, director David Kerr wears his Shakespearean cinematic influences brazenly on his sleeve. The opening sequence introducing Theseus (John Hannah) as the dictatorial ruler of Athens and Hippolyta (Eleanor Matsuura) as his bride-to-be in chains draws from Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, Taymor's Titus and, perhaps most heavily of all, Loncraine's Richard III.
It's an impressive back catalogue to draw upon, even if Kerr delivers these references with an undeniably heavy hand. Those familiar with Shakespeare's original play will know that the relationship between Theseus and Hippolyta is one that has always been open to interpretation, but it has perhaps never been given such an unsettling and unambiguously negative spin on screen as Kerr offers here.
On both executive production and script adaptation duties is Russell T. Davies, whose influence can also be clearly felt in the aesthetic adopted throughout the film. There's a strong whiff of Davies' Doctor Who tenure here: with its handily placed touchscreens and SFX-enhanced fairies, Kerr's Athens could easily be mistaken for somewhere David Tennant's timelord once landed his TARDIS. It lacks subtlety, but for the most part it works well enough without detracting from Shakespeare's story, and the younger members of the audience will no doubt love it.
Less successful, however, is Davies' increasing tendency to tinker with the events of the original play. I'm all for tinkering with Shakespeare's texts - in fact I would call myself an active proponent of doing so - but when said tinkering adds little to the story it becomes an unnecessary distraction. At one point, for example, Davies adds an extra twist to the already somewhat complex relationships between Demetrius (Paapa Essiedu), Lysander (Matthew Tennyson), Hermia (Prisca Bakare) and Helena (Kate Kennedy) in which Demetrius briefly falls in love with Lysander. Whilst arguably intended to add a modern dimension to Shakespeare's traditional reprentation of love, this change also feels entirely superfluous, undercutting any positive impact it might have had on the adaptation overall.
Less successful still are Davies' considerable changes to the final act, giving the fantastical comedy a gratuitously tragic and sinister edge which detracts from the farcical performance of the mechanicals. It's a shame that both writer and director ultimately conclude their version of A Midsummer Night's Dream in a confusing and messy manner when the simple entertainment of Shakespeare's play was entirely at their disposal. It's largely thanks to the wealth of reliable names within Kerr's cast that Davies' screenplay doesn't prove to be his adaptation's undoing.