Review  ⁄  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   Barnfield theatre   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.

 


Recent stories
Exeter city centre from Exeter Cathedral roof

Freedom of Information requests reveal Liveable Exeter Place Board "chumocracy" overseeing the city

Peninsula Transport vision document cover image

30 year plan for SW transport outlined in consultation document

Job Centre Plus entrance

Exeter workers to be among hardest hit by £20 cut in universal credit

Bar chart showing 2020 pollution incidents per 10,000km2 for the nine privatised water companies in England

South West Water misses pollution targets for tenth year running

Harlequins revised redevelopment scheme illustrative elevation

Harlequins developer plans to scrap hotel to build second "co-living" block on shopping centre site

Positive Light Projects - Sidwell Street entrance

Positive Light Projects opens community arts centre despite CityPoint redevelopment threat


Help power our public interest journalism

Never miss a story
on Exeter Observer

More Reviews
Preston Street Union present SERGE/SURGE at Cricklepit Mill

Preston Street Union rolls out the red carpet

The Exeter-based artists explore migration driven by the city's historic wool trade in new work commissioned by RAMM.

Extreme Imagination - inside the mind's eye exhibition at Exeter RAMM

Extreme Imagination - Inside the Mind's Eye

University of Exeter research fellow Dr Matthew MacKisack guides us through a RAMM exhibition that explores works by artists, writers and makers with widely varying visual imaginations.

Kaleider Mikrofest Our Dancing Shadows in Exeter Princesshay

Out of sight, out of mind

A performance of From The Light of The Fire, Our Dancing Shadows in Exeter for Kaleider Mikrofest appears to favour illusion over truth in a confused rendering of Plato's cave allegory that leaves both performers and audience in the dark.

More Arts & Culture
Positive Light Projects - Sidwell Street entrance

Positive Light Projects opens community arts centre despite CityPoint redevelopment threat

Parts of Exeter city centre are experiencing an unplanned renaissance as small shops and cultural venues move in to fill empty units on Paris Street and Sidwell Street, but uncertainty remains as the council still plans to demolish and redevelop.

Exeter Princesshay Debenhams closing down sale

Top floor of former Debenhams store to be converted into cinema

Princesshay owner's proposals for change of use to four screen cinema and cafe/bar have been under discussion since November 2019.

Preston Street Union present SERGE/SURGE at Cricklepit Mill

Preston Street Union rolls out the red carpet

The Exeter-based artists explore migration driven by the city's historic wool trade in new work commissioned by RAMM.

All Arts & Culture
News
Peninsula Transport vision document cover image

30 year plan for SW transport outlined in consultation document

Strategic vision places investment in roads ahead of decarbonisation despite acknowledging the region's high car dependency rate.

Job Centre Plus entrance

Exeter workers to be among hardest hit by £20 cut in universal credit

Analysis shows proportion of benefit claimants in Exeter in work is among highest in country.

Bar chart showing 2020 pollution incidents per 10,000km2 for the nine privatised water companies in England

South West Water misses pollution targets for tenth year running

Environment Agency says regional company's performance "drags down the whole sector's reputation" as report places it at bottom of annual assessment league table while company pays out millions in shareholder dividends.

All News
Analysis
Exeter city centre from Exeter Cathedral roof

Freedom of Information requests reveal Liveable Exeter Place Board "chumocracy" overseeing the city

Despite the significance of Liveable Exeter Place Board's role in determining the city's future, its members are selected and appointed on a secretive, informal basis.

Positive Light Projects - Sidwell Street entrance

Positive Light Projects opens community arts centre despite CityPoint redevelopment threat

Parts of Exeter city centre are experiencing an unplanned renaissance as small shops and cultural venues move in to fill empty units on Paris Street and Sidwell Street, but uncertainty remains as the council still plans to demolish and redevelop.

New Haven Field in Exeter's Riverside Valley Park

River Exe green spaces and heritage harbour site threatened by "Liveable Exeter" development scheme

Exeter Civic Society and Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors raise alarm at prospect of Exeter City Council development in river valley park and historic canal basin.

All Analysis
Comment
UN Secretary General António Guterres briefs the media

António Guterres on the climate crisis: "We are coming to a point of no return"

An interview with the UN Secretary General on the eve of the G7 summit in Cornwall published as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration.

Net Zero Exeter logo

Is Exeter City Council going to abandon its Net Zero 2030 target?

Review suggests alignment with Devon Carbon Plan, currently aimed at 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050, citing "technical and financial challenges ahead", although change in policy would require decision by councillors after 6 May local elections.

Centre for Cities Exeter City Monitor graphic

Selective use of statistics presents an unbalanced account of Exeter's economic & environmental status

Exeter City Council's Chief Executive uses statistics to show the city in a good light, but in doing so presents a picture which omits important information about the city's true position.

All Comment
Transport & Mobility
Peninsula Transport vision document cover image

30 year plan for SW transport outlined in consultation document

Strategic vision places investment in roads ahead of decarbonisation despite acknowledging the region's high car dependency rate.

Train at Okehampton Station in 2015

Okehampton to Exeter "Dartmoor Line" passenger rail service reinstatement confirmed

£40 million Department for Transport "Restoring your Railway" funding to enable trains every two hours by end of this year, with plans to increase to hourly service during 2022. Stakeholders combine to get South West infrastructure needs onto Whitehall agenda.

Pedestrians and people waiting at bus stop on Exeter Cowick Street

Council abandons temporary COVID-19 cycling and walking safety plans in Exeter city centre

Devon County Council cites "pushback" from traders as schemes on North Street, South Street, Fore Street and Cowick Street are scrapped. Meanwhile temporary changes in Topsham are dropped after "snap poll".

All Transport & Mobility
Planning & Place
Harlequins revised redevelopment scheme illustrative elevation

Harlequins developer plans to scrap hotel to build second "co-living" block on shopping centre site

Existing planning approval will be factor in decision to return to earlier, rejected, vision which would mean 378 studios and "cluster flat" rooms along Paul Street.

New Haven Field in Exeter's Riverside Valley Park

River Exe green spaces and heritage harbour site threatened by "Liveable Exeter" development scheme

Exeter Civic Society and Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors raise alarm at prospect of Exeter City Council development in river valley park and historic canal basin.

Clydesdale, Nash and Birks Grange Village redevelopment illustrative elevations

University drops environmental standards for huge student flats development with council approval

University of Exeter and Exeter City Council both ignore own policies in plans to demolish 30 buildings and construct 50,000m2 of new student accommodation, telling us more about their priorities than their climate leadership claims.

All Planning & Place
Climate & Environment
Bar chart showing 2020 pollution incidents per 10,000km2 for the nine privatised water companies in England

South West Water misses pollution targets for tenth year running

Environment Agency says regional company's performance "drags down the whole sector's reputation" as report places it at bottom of annual assessment league table while company pays out millions in shareholder dividends.

Extinction Rebellion climate activist Imogen May

Environmental activist Imogen May defiant after second liability order for non-payment of council tax

Extinction Rebellion demonstrated at Exeter Law Courts in support of Crediton lone parent who has withheld council tax for two years in protest over government climate crisis inaction.

UN Secretary General António Guterres briefs the media

António Guterres on the climate crisis: "We are coming to a point of no return"

An interview with the UN Secretary General on the eve of the G7 summit in Cornwall published as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration.

All Climate & Environment
Democracy & Governance
Exeter city centre from Exeter Cathedral roof

Freedom of Information requests reveal Liveable Exeter Place Board "chumocracy" overseeing the city

Despite the significance of Liveable Exeter Place Board's role in determining the city's future, its members are selected and appointed on a secretive, informal basis.

Exeter City Council 2021 election results ballot share percentage by ward

Did Exeter's local elections results tell a Labour success story?

Exeter Labour lost just one seat in the city council elections and held all seven of its county hall seats, but on closer inspection its performance was more mixed than these headline results imply.

Exeter City Council in session at Exeter Guildhall - Inauguration of Lord Mayor

High Court rules council meetings must resume in person after local elections

Case seeking judgement to allow local authority meetings to continue remotely when temporary coronavirus regulations expire fails to override requirement for primary legislation.

All Democracy & Governance
Education & Skills
Exeter University & College Union strike third week rally at St David's Church - Billy Bragg concert

University of Exeter strike ends third week with rally and concert at St David's Church

The Exeter branch of the University & College Union (UCU) is taking part in four weeks of national industrial action over pensions, equal pay for female and BAME staff, increasing workloads and the use of casual employment contracts.

Striking University of Exeter history lecturers Dr Jennifer Farrell and Dr Gemma Clark

University of Exeter staff strike over pay, pensions and working conditions

The Exeter branch of the University & College Union (UCU) is taking part in a national eight day strike for fair pay and pensions, including equal pay for female and BAME staff, and against casualisation and increasing workloads.

Rhian Keyse speaking at Exeter UCU's anti-casualisation campaign launch

Education union challenges university to address widespread casualisation of teaching staff

Exeter University & College Union (UCU) launched an anti-casualisation campaign on Friday as a prelude to negotiation with the University of Exeter over academic staff contracts.

Economy & Enterprise
Job Centre Plus entrance

Exeter workers to be among hardest hit by £20 cut in universal credit

Analysis shows proportion of benefit claimants in Exeter in work is among highest in country.

Centre for Cities Exeter City Monitor graphic

Selective use of statistics presents an unbalanced account of Exeter's economic & environmental status

Exeter City Council's Chief Executive uses statistics to show the city in a good light, but in doing so presents a picture which omits important information about the city's true position.

Illustration showing how the new building will look when completed

Exeter Science Park STEMM "grow-out building" construction begins

A new specialist centre for fast-growth Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths & Medicine businesses will be completed by November 2021.

All Economy & Enterprise
Community & Society
Kinder Exeter community festival on Cathedral Green

Kinder Exeter community festival brings compassion and colour to city centre

Week-long event bringing artists, academics, students and communities together for online and outdoor activities was first of planned annual festivals facilitated by Maketank artists' collective.

Great Western Hotel beside Exeter St David's railway station

Exeter rough sleepers in COVID-19 emergency accommodation face uncertain future

Exeter City Council has yet to confirm whether it will use any of the £2.15m Rough Sleeping Initiative funding it has received since 2018 to keep housing rough sleepers when government emergency accommodation funding runs out.

Night shelter for homeless and rough sleepers in Magdalen Street, Exeter (front)

Exeter rough sleepers night shelter to open all year round

Exeter City Council has approved plans to extend Magdalen Street night shelter opening from April to the end of September.

All Community & Society