EVENT  ⁄  ARTS & CULTURE

Playing with gender expectations at Barnfield Theatre

An Exeter College interpretation of A Midsummer Night's Dream transforms it into an enchanting contemporary gender-adapted tale.

Exeter college  Lgbtqia+ 

On the pink-lit stage of Barnfield Theatre, a teenage boy stands in a dress made of Poundland carrier bags alongside Bottom, Francis Flute and Robin Starveling reimagined as zero-hours workers.

This is just one way in which this Exeter College student production has twisted, shifted and moulded this well-known story for a contemporary audience. While Athens and the forest remain the same, inside are found not only the motley zero-hours crew, but also gender-flipped interpretations of Lysandra, Theseus and Puck.

Following last week’s Exeter Pride, themes of gender and sexuality are fresh in the air. This staging seems to create a space in which concepts are free to flow in all directions.

Without focusing on a plot line typically associated with explorations of sexuality - the “coming out” narrative - the play simply allows relationships that are not typically represented to flourish.

Without drawing much attention to the two lesbian couples on stage, they are embedded into the story rather than separated from the familiar tale.

Exeter College students in A Midsummer Night's Dream at Barnfield Theatre Exeter College students in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Barnfield Theatre. Photo: James King.

I discovered after the play had finished that the company had employed gender-blind casting, allowing the personality of the character to determine the choice of actor, rather than their gender.

This gives the production a much more feminist feel than a straight telling, as girls take on a whole new range of roles.

From a calm and commanding Theseus, to a wild Lysandra and even wilder Puck, this rendering of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is as much a testimony to the power of women as it is to love, in all its forms.

Furthermore, the company explores the character of the Moon, or Artemis, as she guides the young female characters. As Helena struggles to understand her own agency in the world as it all collapses around her, Artemis stands by her in otherworldly grace.

The same is true when Hermia and Lysandra struggle to define the boundaries of their relationship: both too are comforted by the Artemis figure.

Exeter College students in A Midsummer Night's Dream at Barnfield Theatre Exeter College students in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Barnfield Theatre. Photo: James King.

Besides subverting the unspoken laws of gender, this performance also tests the bounds of movement. The dance in this performance is incredible. It isn’t just contained in tightly controlled sequences, but fills the stage from one scene to the next.

Oberon delivers his lines between acrobatic flourishes as his sidekick Puck leaps and bounds in playful glee. The very stage seems fluid: it is a joy to watch.

And, if all this seems heavy - weighed down by concepts of gender and sexuality - remember that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is, after all, a comedy. In which a teenage boy stands on the pink-lit stage of Barnfield Theatre in a dress made of Poundland carrier bags.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Exeter College UAL students is showing at Barnfield Theatre at 7.30pm Friday 17 and Saturday 18 May, and at 2pm on Sunday 19 May.


 is a climate activist, writer and student.

Exeter in brief
Exeter in brief

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The UNIVERSITY OF EXETER has submitted detailed plans for its 1,700 bed West Park redevelopment of 50,000m2 of student accommodation.

Royal College of Nursing staff at the ROYAL DEVON NHS TRUST have resumed strike action alongside South Western Ambulance Service workers as healthcare professionals across the country stage the biggest strike in NHS history.

Detailed plans for the Honiton Road MOOR EXCHANGE RETAIL PARK have been submitted for approval. Outline planning permission for the development was granted two years ago.

The police inspectorate says DEVON AND CORNWALL POLICE must make urgent improvements after it was found to be inadequate in three of nine areas including responding to emergency and non-emergency calls and managing registered sexual and violent offenders.
Its assessment found two other areas required improvement while two more were graded “good”. A new chief constable was appointed in December after the force was placed under enhanced inspectorate monitoring last year.

DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL is consulting on its draft Exeter Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan, which is already nearly six years late, until the end of March.

UNIVERSITY OF EXETER staff have resumed strike action over pay, pensions and working conditions alongside Exeter school teaching staff with dozens more strike days planned during February and March.

EXETER CITY FUTURES published the agenda for its last board meeting on 30 January, two months after the meeting was held. It says it is “committed to being completely transparent and open about the things that are discussed at board meetings”. No minutes were included.

DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL is not making sufficient progress with its children’s services since they were judged inadequate in January 2020 according to the latest Ofsted monitoring report which found that key areas still require significant change and serious issues remain.

The UNIVERSITY OF EXETER has submitted detailed plans for its 1,700 bed West Park redevelopment of 50,000m2 of student accommodation.

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