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Theatre review: A Midsummer Night's Dream (RSC/Stratford) 
17th-Sep-2011 10:41 pm
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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.
Comments 
19th-Sep-2011 11:08 pm (UTC)
14 shows in 13 days is amazing :o)

I've only ever seen Midsummer nights dream with Russ Abbot LOL
20th-Sep-2011 10:54 am (UTC)
I prefer not to do two shows in a day because I'd rather have time to think about one and clear my head before going on to the next one, but it seemed a waste not to see The Homecoming while I was there. And I knew it'd be a comparatively short show, so I'd have some time after the matinee finished before coming back for Dream.
25th-Sep-2011 11:22 pm (UTC)
It's now a week since we saw this show and I'm just about settled into what I thought of it. It took a while because I wanted to try and separate it from mt impressions of Merchant of Venice the night before to be sure I wasn't just comparing the 2.
I think midsummer night's dream was very impressive, but largely due to a couple of stand out performances from Bottom and Helena, not that the others weren't good, but these two really set the tone and ensured the whole show really did come across as the comedy it was written as. I sometimes have a bit of trouble seeing the comedy in Shakespeare, mostly because it usually takes me the first hour or so to start following the language closely enough to actually get all the jokes.
Whilst I would agree with most of Nick's conclusions about the concept I do think it nearly comes off and is an interesting attempt even if it doesn't totally gel. The pillow fight was inspired though!
26th-Sep-2011 03:16 pm (UTC)
I sometimes have a bit of trouble seeing the comedy in Shakespeare, mostly because it usually takes me the first hour or so to start following the language closely enough to actually get all the jokes.

I think however familiar you are with Shakespeare you do need to readjust every time to the language, but with the comedies I think it's also their structure - most of them are comedies of errors that need quite a lot of setup so the funny stuff does actually take a while to get started.
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