I recently had the pleasure of receiving an advanced copy of Darren Dash’s new novel to review here on Books, Films and Random Lunacy. These are my thoughts on the author’s latest release…
A Midsummer’s Bottom is the fourth novel by Darren Dash, the alliterative nom deplume under which the bestselling YA author Darren Shan pens his tales for adults. His latest offering is a light-hearted comedic book that tells the story of The Midsummer Players, a Limerick-based troupe of am-dram hams who stage their own butchered production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream every year on Midsummer’s Eve.
Each year without fail they perform their version of the iconic play to a lukewarm response then go back to their daily lives for the intervening 11 months before doing it all over again. ‘But that’s all well and good,’ I hear you cry, ‘Apart from the poor unsuspecting theatregoers of Limerick who have to suffer this tawdry torment.’ But alas all is not that simple. In actuality all of the fairies who feature in the Bard’s original work of whimsy are real. Centuries earlier the fairies of Feyland met with a young William Shakespeare and agreed to imbue the ambitious scribe’s quill with their magic so as he could write a play about them. He did just that and his new mystical pals were so pleased with the end result, they promised to attend every single production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for as long as it endured.
The book opens with King Oberon and Queen Titania at their wits end, The Midsummer Player’s 20th anniversary performance is just around the corner and the thought of sitting through yet another of their dreadful interpretations has become too much for the royal pair to stomach. Exasperated they summon fairy mischief-maker extraordinaire Puck to enlist the help of a human agent of chaos who can infiltrate the Midsummer Players ranks and tear them apart at the seams.
The perfect human meddler presents himself in the form of Del Chapman a freethinking anarchist who lives a life unencumbered by the constraints of modern society. We first meet Del just after he’s grown board of the only nine to five he’s ever had and decided to bid it an irreverent adieu. Later that night Del has an unexpected encounter with Puck and after a bit of persuasion and a lot of rhyming couplets Del agrees to help the Fey folk in their mission to disband the tiresome thespians.
Over the next few chapters we are introduced to the Midsummer Players and learn all their unique traits and quirks
The first name on Dash’s bill of eclectic amateurs is the ensemble’s director Terrence Devlin, a conceited middle-aged lothario who thinks he’s Limerick’s answer to Lord Olivier. Then we meet Anna, Terrence’s long-suffering wife, a devoted mother and reluctant actress whose self-confidence and patience with her egotistical husband is wearing thin.
Next is Kate Pummel an ambitious young actress who is longing for the right break and will do anything she can to climb the showbiz ladder.
Then we meet Ingmar and Don a bickering gay couple who’ve performed with the troop for several seasons. Don is a monogamous doting partner who is fiercely jealous of his younger lover who happens to be a flirtatious German DJ who thumbs his nose at conventional relationships.
Followed by Diarmid Garrigan a socially awkward IT bod who first came into contact with the players as an audience member at one of their early outings. He was so impressed by their work that he came back repeatedly until Terrence made him a permanent member of the cast. But after working with the hapless band of lovies for years Diarmid’s enthusiasm is beginning to ebb.
The last two players whose acquaintances we make are Felix and his wife Nuala. Felix is an unassuming individual who is happily henpecked by his Amazonian cougar of a missus Nuala is a writer by trade who has found mild success releasing a long list of romance novels under numerous pseudonyms.
Everything is seemingly on-track for their first rehearsal of the year, but when they all arrive to find a certain Mr Chapman filling in for one of their regulars the whole thing unravels as quickly and amusingly as a ball of yarn in a kitten’s paws.
A Midsummer’s Bottom is a swiftly paced tongue-in-cheek romp packed with bawdy humour and fantastical charm that manages to simultaneously embrace and send-up Shakespearian tropes. Dash’s choice to construct the book’s narrative in acts and scenes as opposed to parts and chapters is fittingly clever and the fact that all the sequences set in Feyland are written as if they were extracts from a play, only enhances it’s theatrical flair. The characters with all their neurotic flamboyance wouldn’t look out of place in a Richard Curtis comedy and the ever-present thread of joyous eccentricity weaved throughout the plot would make Woody Allan proud. Dash has filled this tale with all the belly laughs and bust-ups you would expect from a comical summer read whilst still pulling off the kind of big reveals and surprising plot twists that have made him famous.
This is definitely not the sort of book readers would expect from the author under either of his pen names, and some of Dash/Shan’s diehard fans may be left discombobulated by the shift in tone, but in my personal view it was the unexpected nature of the novel that made it so enjoyable. A good many wordsmiths of Dash’s calibre wouldn’t be brave enough to risk experimenting in different genres and forever remain in the same lucrative literary sphere. But Dash’s refusal to play to the gallery and instead follow his imagination into fairyland proves the true extent of his creative range.