Review: Dramasoc's 'Helena and Hermia'


Emily Stevens (she/her) reviews a modern take on Shakespeare's classic comedy

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By Emily Stevens

Do you really want to know where I was on April 29? At Dramasoc’s production of Helena and Hermia, of course.

The University of York’s Drama Barn looks unassuming from the outside: a small building tucked away behind the Music department. But as I entered, I was blown away by the setting and knew I was about to be transported into another world. I took my seat and settled in for what promised to be an enjoyable theatrical experience.

Helena and Hermia, written and directed by Dora Gawn-Hopkins, is a modern take on Shakespeare’s famous play A Midsummer Night’s Dream. However, instead of following the story of two sets of lovers and the mad events that ensue due to meddling fairies, Helena and Hermia focuses on the relationship between the two female leads. Lysander and Demetrius, protagonists in the original play, are mere side characters who are generally onstage to provide comedic relief. It was a refreshing way of approaching the tale, and I thoroughly enjoyed the production.

The play is set in a modern secondary school, where Helena (Erin Martin), Hermia (Isabel Benson), Lysander (Malachi Atherton) and Demetrius (Sam Loft) are students setting off on a field trip after their mock exams. We learn that Helena and Hermia have been best friends for years, but Hermia’s recent infatuation with Lysander has caused Helena to feel abandoned. Everything comes to a head on the field trip, organised by the melodramatic teacher Mrs Quickly (Abi Lawson). The characters become lost in the woods, arguments break out and chaos ensues.

In my opinion, the greatest strength of the play was its humour. The script was very well-written and every actor timed their jokes perfectly, capturing the magic and wit of Shakespeare’s original play. But, I must say, the character that stole the show was undoubtedly Beatrice the bus driver, played by Ree Jordan. Inspired by Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing, her performance as the fiery, drunken, terrible driver of the coach left the audience in stitches.

The anachronistic elements of the show only added to the hilarity: Hermia ordering McDonald’s to the forest and Lysander and Demetrius’s spontaneous re-enactment of an iconic Star Wars scene were some of my favourite moments. Yet alongside the comedy was a heart-warming story of female friendship told through Helena and Hermia. Their relationship was the focus of the narrative and the audience were clearly rooting for them throughout the entire show. As Shakespeare’s original play places the romantic relationships centre-stage, it was refreshing to see a take on the story that prioritised female friendship.

My only criticism is that the character of Demetrius felt a little forgotten. I liked that Lysander and Demetrius were more minor characters in favour of Helena and Hermia, but at times it felt that Demetrius had no real role in the story. However, his comedic moments with Lysander were a highlight of the play. Overall though, the story was well thought out, the writing was refreshing and the actors embodied their characters perfectly. Helena and Hermia was an excellent and creative reimagining of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Writer’s Note: this performance by Dramasoc took place on 29 April 2024 at the Drama Barn.