So that's my 14 shows in 13 days done; the three RSC shows in two days also mark three consecutive shows where someone's been spat on (at least in The Homecoming it's in the script.) Spitting is obviously now an RSC meme to match the neck tattoos (absent this time) and compulsory big dance routine (a slightly more intimate affair here between Jo Stone-Fewings and Pippa Nixon presenting an extended transformation from Oberon and Titania back to Theseus and Hipppolyta.) Nancy Meckler's big concept for her industrial A Midsummer Night's Dream is to take the title quite literally, making the nighttime scenes a shared dream in which the various characters resolve the problems they're faced with in the opening scene. This also includes the royal couple, Meckler having taken the speech about Hippolyta having been wooed with violence and shown things still far from rosy between the two royals (hence Hippolyta spitting in Theseus' direction.)
Some of the smaller ideas in the production didn't quite gel for me: Katrina Lindsay's costume design is largely 1960s-inspired but not quite consistently; I could never quite figure out if Titania's fairies were meant to be like children, vampires, or children playing at vampires; a visual of the forest being represented by cheap, colourful plastic chairs suspended from the ceiling felt as if it belonged in a different production. Though the performances are good in the first half, in the second half they're good enough to make me not worry about these wobbles in the show's conception. After a comparatively dark start this builds into a very funny Dream, with the mixed up lovers as usual providing more laughs than they tend to be credited with. Act III Scene 2, my favourite scene in the play, descends into a pillow fight and though Alex Hassell's Demetrius couldn't make me forget Ed Bennett in the role in the RSC's previous production (a mere 3 years ago) it wouldn't be a fair ask anyway as I think it'll be a long time before I see a better one. Nathaniel Martello-White's Lysander is better, Matti Houghton's Hermia a little bit too understated. Helena, however, is the standout among these four in what is a rather unusual but very funny interpretation from Lucy Briggs-Owen. At the interval I couldn't decide if she was meant to be a bit tipsy or just slightly deranged from the off (I'm leaning towards the latter) but at least either interpretation does go a little way to solving my usual plot gripe about just how nonsensical her plan to sell out Hermia is. The mechanicals, led by Bottom as played by Felix Hayes in tonight's performance, do come up trumps though and their final performance is a particularly inventive and funny take on the scene. The fairies are the weakest link really. Puck barely registers; tonight this role was also understudied, by Lanre Malaolu, but I don't think this is why he feels so incidental to the action. I think it's more the fact that Meckler never really gives a coherent idea of what the fairies are actually meant to be like, that means from their king and queen down to the non-speaking roles there's nothing particularly interesting about them. A funny production if not a particularly memorable one, its inventiveness is seen better in creating comic business than in its attempts at Gooldian high concepts.
A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare is in repertory until the 5th of November at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon.