A Midsummer Night’s Dream
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Edward Hall
Bath Theatre Royal
Wednesday 20th November matinee 14.30
Propellor did this highly-acclaimed production in 2003 and 2009 and revived it for 2013-2014 on tour. The picture on the programme and most on line are the 2009 production, not the current cast, though costumes are the same. The images below are current.
It is the fifth version of The Dream I’ve seen this year, and the third in three months for us. It’s an all-male production, though I am not sure of the rationale. It’s not an “authentic practices” recreation in Globe-style at all, nor is it remotely a “gay” version as in the Romeo & Juliet we saw at Bath a few years past. There’s nothing camp about it. The all-male production means it’s robust and physical, but actually the girls do that now perfectly well in the lovers’ scene, so it’s no new thing. The all-male gives an edge with both Hermia and Helena, as the comedy is accentuated by men playing women and playing the tiny feminine mannerisms up rather than doing drag … no high-pitched voices, white face, no wigs, just a skirt over the long johns and corset which the whole cast wore throughout. The set and costumes work.
This is a Puck / Fairies centred version, with a really first-rate Puck for a change. OK, the tutu is the John Caird version, but it is a concept well worth reviving, and looking vaguely like Julian Clarey in the role is a positive. The fairy-centric aspect worked, from the parachute games use of cloths, to the glissandi and coconut shells and whistles accompanying action. I loved that whole part of the production.
The lovers are excellent too. The physicality … Hermia jumping on the back, Hermia being dragged along … has all been seen before, but the all-male cast add an interesting angle to it. Nothing new in moves, but superbly executed.
The production is unusual post-Peter Brooks in having Theseus / Hippolyta and Titania / Oberon as different actors. What used to be the norm before 1968 is now the form, so this is significantly different. I thought the lack of an extraneous concept and uh, female, women were negative here. The first Titania-Oberon interchange always seems an intrinsic flat spot in the play to me and here having them on ladders facing in at ninety degrees to the audience exacerbated the flat spot, but also while having men play Hermia and Helena added comedy, and also added comedy to Hippolyta, I thought it killed Titania’s part almost completely. James Tucker acted it as well as it could be acted, but in the end, it was the bit that didn’t fit the concept. While they avoid the Peter Brooks Duke / King of Fairies doubling, they have a line of chairs about eight feet above stage level which effectively function as Brooks’ balcony.
Oberon and Titania
On doubling, there are some good points. Hippolyta takes over Philostrate’s lines in the Pyramus & Thisbe play; and Hermia sidles off from her (his?) audience role to play the lion, or Jug the Snoiner as Snug The Joiner is here. The lanky Thisbe is brilliant. One of those new touches you thought could not still be found in the Dream as she suddenly loses it completely and attacks everyone in sight. A great Thisbe, and as he/she is a boy playing a girl, he/she actually gets a female wig, unlike Hermia, Helena, Hippolyta and Titania.
The Rude Mechanicals were very funny. Casting a short Bottom against a very tall Thisbe is a good contrast, and it was a first rate Pyramus and Thisbe without extra staging or props. The Moon was also doing new stuff with stroppy responses.
It was a thoroughly entertaining production, which had the school parties in fits of laughter. You can’t ask for more. Was it “as good” as Grandage, The Globe or RSC? Well, probably no (though we thought the Pyramus and Thisbe better than the Grandage), but those productions aren’t on tour, nor restricted to a cast of just fourteen. Given that, it was great. Fantastic use of music, truly ensemble playing, effective and interesting lighting.
We enjoyed the cast giving up their much needed interval to sing All I Have To Do Is Dream and Daydream Believer while there was a charity collection. It happened to be a charity we very much favour too, but that’s the third charity collection in three theatre performances now. All worthy too.
REVIEWS OF OTHER PRODUCTIONS OF “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on this blog:
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – BBC TV SCREEN version 2016