A Midsummer Night’s Dream is littered with arcane references to obscure concepts and ideas with which a modern audience may have difficulty. Gregory Doran’s current RSC production at London’s Novello Theatre does much - perhaps rather too much - to help.
There is nothing wrong with staging Shakespeare with a view to extracting maximum meaning from the text. A Midsummer Night’s Dream
is among the most accessible of the 37 plays but it is littered with arcane references to obscure concepts and ideas with which a modern audience may have difficulty. Gregory Doran’s current RSC production at London’s Novello Theatre does much - perhaps rather too much - to help: expressive tuts, sighs, ums, oohs and ahs are all very well but not when they get in the way.
This production’s Athens is a city of contrasts: the pairs of lovers look as if they have been snatched from a Mayday picnic on the banks of the Cam to appear before a court martial. Robert Curtis’ masterfully military Theseus wastes no time in upholding authoritarian Egeus’ right to dispose of his daughter, Kathryn Drysdale’s feisty Hermia, in the teeth of extensive non-verbal protests from both her and Riann Steele’s statuesque Hippolyta.
The floppy-fringed charm of the lovers is pitched perfectly: they are young but not mawkish and Doran entirely avoids making them identikit and interchangeable. Lysander looks like he’s in a band while Demetrius might be a junior barrister" Helena is a willowy librarian and Hermia a bombshell. All four are a pleasure to watch.
The same cannot be said of the mechanicals. The play within a play scenes are flabby, disappointing and largely responsible for the production’s 3-hour running time. Joe Dixon puts his all into Bottom but he isn’t very funny and neither are the others – with the possible exception of Ricky Champ’s Wall and its chink...
Tim Mitchell’s fantastic lighting makes the forest scenes: the woods seem a place where anything is possible and it is here that the production really begins to come into its own. Strong ensemble performances, clever use of original props and unobtrusive wire work combine to create a dangerous amoral night world where cruelty and beauty entwine. Peter de Jersey and Andrea Harris do very well as Oberon and Titania - so much so that Mark Hadfield’s Puck is often overshadowed.
The return of the reconciled lovers to Athens and the ensuing group wedding fall flat after the magic of the forest and it’s hard not to fervently agree with Theseus’ last words to Bottom: “Let your epilogue alone.”
A Midsummer Night's Dream runs at the Novello in London from 15 January - 7 February 2009 after transferring from Stratford-upon-Avon.
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