A Midsummer Night’s Dream
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Joel Hill-Gibbons
Design & Light by Johannes Schutz
Dramaturgy by Zoe Svendsen
Young Vic Theatre, London
Geoff Aymer – Tom Snout
Leo Bill - Bottom
Sam Cox – Robin Starveling
John Dagleish - Lysander
Michael Gould – Theseus / Oberon
Aaron Heffernan - Flute
Anastasia Hille - Hippolyta / Titania
Lloyd Hutchinson - Puck / Egeus
Anna Madeley - Helena
Douggie McMeekin – Snug
Melanie Pappenheim – Philostrate / Singing fairy
Jemima Rooper – Hermia
Matthew Steer – Peter Quince
After 2016, the year of the Dream, this one comes in 2017, and we’re seeing it so far near the end of its run that few may read this. It’ll be over, you’ve missed it, BUT … a new production of the Dream should be reviewed. There are fourteen other versions on this blog, after all. It’s my favourite play of all time.
I read the reviews. The main complaint about this version seems to be that it’s a comedy with precious few funny bits.
Joel Hill Gibbons says:
“It’s really quite a deep and dark play about how difficult it is to sustain relationships, and the way people manipulate and hurt each other, even torture each other, intentionally or otherwise. Did Shakespeare believe in fairies? I’m not sure he did. I don’t know, but I’m not sure he was writing a play about our fairy friends. You’re in the forest at night and you hear a strange noise. Is that a fox having sex or a baby screaming as it is dragged away? Fairies are a product of our imaginations, something we project into the dark.”
Not necessarily a load of laughs, then. My other fear, on the reviews I read in advance was that the mud gets mentioned a lot. The worst play I’ve seen since I started this blog (possibly ever), Forests by Calixto Bieto, took place with lots of mud. Here the set is mud, with mirrors behind.
All done with mirrors: Jemima Rooper as Hermia
The mirrors meant we waved at ourselves waiting for the play to start. Sorry. Most people didn’t, but we did. Their function was to turn the semi-circular stage into an apparent complete circus ring, with low side barriers with a light round the inside illuminating the mud within, and it really is some kind of mud: the actors get progressively muddier. After the forest of Arden, when we go back to the court of Athens, two of the cast pick up paint rollers and paint the mirrors black to about outstretched fingertip height. The tiny Hermia, hilariously, can’t reach above it it, though everyone else can.
I was afraid that for the first time it would not be enjoyable. Wrong. I don’t see where the “lack of humour” complaints come from. It was very funny. It was also original in many ways. The whole cast stayed on throughout the two hours. No entrances and exits, just freezing in position.
Lloyd Hutchinson was a pudgy red wigged Puck in a black string vest with a Northern Irish accent, as curmudgeonly as Van Morrison on a bad day … we both said “Puck was Van Morrison” as we came out. After two stellar Pucks at the RSC and Globe in 2016, both female, it was a good move to break away totally. He was a reluctant fairy, if ever you saw one one, hauling the lovers around, speaking with zero enthusiasm about encircling the globe. I’ve never seen a Puck remotely like this, but he continues the 2016 move of reinstating Puck to importance (something that was being lost a few years ago). Full marks for originality.
Bottom (Leo Bill). Rude mechanicals in background. L to R Flute (Aaron Heffernan), Snout (Tom Aymer) and Snug (Dougie McMeekin)
Then Leo Bill as Bottom was thin, tall, with long ginger hair, almost Neil from The Young Ones, except he could break into excellent song (singing Maria McKee’s Show Me Heaven). He was also a hyperactive Bottom. Peasblossom, Mustardseed et al were imaginary, mimed with Titania’s hand … Oberon’s magic potions were also invisible. It works just as well.
Theseus (Michael Gould) and Hippolyta (Anastasia Hille) transform to Oberon and Titania in full view. He simply removes a black dressing gown to became bare chested, she removes her trousers to reveal a skirt. She has heeled shoes as Hippolyta, bare feet for Titania. Theseus delivers several lines with his back to the audience, but we see his face reflected in the mirror … all perfectly audible, no doubt the mirror helps sound. Anastasia Hille is a very sexy Titania with Bottom too ; they roll across the full width of the stage in embrace.
Lysander (John Dagleish) and Hermia (Jemima Rooper)
Demetrius (Oliver Alvin-Wilson)
Helena (Anna Madeley)
All four lovers are good, as they always are … it’s all in the lines. The size casting was fine … Jemina Rooper as fierce as you expect, and Anna Madeley a first rate Helena. The lads, Oliver Alvin Wilson as Demetrius and John Dagleish as Lysander were highly physical with each other (and rough with the girls – but the mud cushions a lot). The mud came into its own, after being critical of stage falls in What The Butler Saw a few days ago, these were all total flat out falls, and lots of them. The mud really helped, but of course all four ended up totally covered.
Peter Quince (Matthew Steer) with whole company and mirrors
Flute (Aaron Heffernan) and Bottom (Leo Bill)
The Pyramus & Thisbe play was conducted with the cast behind a single white sheet which was simply held up, with characters popping up and around it. We’ve seen Sam Cox in so many serious roles at the Wanamaker … he was such a straight faced Lantern, clearly fuming at the comments of the court and ready to start a fight over them, that he was just about the funniest thing in the play. A great cowardly lion, a lovely Wall, and a a fabulous Thisbe from Aaron Heffernan, with just a white band round the nipples and black streaks of make up on his bare chest, “I (heart) P” on his belly, and black lipstick and eye shadow, chewing gum, posing, and far more muscular than poor Bottom. One review described him as “escaped from an Irish boy band.” The innovation was that Hermia was lying in the mud at the front of the stage – they were all lying around, except Theseus – and ended up clutching Thisbe’s scarf, so that Bottom does the speech to her prone body, then sees Hippolyta, and has a flashback to their earlier writhing in the mud when she was Titania, so directs the end to her with an embrace. Then in the final dance, the rude mechanicals and courtly pairs dissolve into one entity. Puck’s final lines are curt and dismissive.
It’s heavily cut, right down to two hours. The result is we wanted to see more development of some characters, particularly Flute / Thisbe who was so funny with the little he was left with. The Mechanicals suffered especially early on. It was taken fast, full of activity, so there was no boredom factor in two hours, BUT the teacher training rule was always 100 minutes is maximum attention time. For contrast, the 100 minute What The Butler Saw on Wednesday this week had a break at 60 minutes. I know directors fear attention is lost and like to avoid an interval, and “no interval’ is especially a Young Vic thing. You cannot compare cinema with 2.5 to 3 hour films, because first the seats are way better, and second people do go in and out to the loo. As I waited for my companion outside the ladies at the end, I noticed how many had raced there urgently and were anxious in the line! A female should rule on length, I think.
A circus ring full of mud. No props at all. No music, except a choral introduction from the whole cast (an effective Gaudea) then Bottom’s unaccompanied songs, and the Singing fairy. Little dance. No fairy attendants. Modern dress. The only bit of costume was what looked like some tights stuffed to form the Ass’s ears, plus a plastic dangling donkey penis. So this was the Dream stripped to its bare bones, but it proved that the elements still work. It is an unmagical, unmusical Dream, and it did focus on the darker side, but this play can take almost anything directors throw at it. We thoroughly enjoyed it, and various bits of new light were cast.
Our joint verdict? As we had hoped, of the newspaper critics, Michael Billington was as so often closest to our rating. Four stars.
WHAT THE PAPERS SAID
Michael Billington, The Guardian ****
Paul Taylor, The Independent ****
Ben Lawrence, The Telegraph ***
Susannah Clapp, The Observer ***
Fergus Morgan, The Stage ***
Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out ***
Sarah Hemming, Financial Times ***
Ann Treneman, The Times **
Connor Campbell, The Upcoming **
Alexandra Coghlan, The Arts Desk, **
LINKS ON THIS BLOG
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – RSC 2011
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Headlong 2011
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Filter 2011
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Selladoor 2013
A Midsummer Nights Dream – Handspring 2013, Bristol
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Grandage 2013
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Globe 2013
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Propellor 2013
A Midsummer Night’s Dream RSC 2016, ‘A Play for the Nation’ at Stratford (February)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream RSC 2016 Revisited Stratford, (July)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Globe 2016
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – BBC TV SCREEN version 2016
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, 2016
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bath, 2016
Measure for Measure, Young Vic, 2015
A View From The Bridge, Young Vic, 2015, (Alfieri)
The Crucible, Old Vic, 2014 (Elizabeth Proctor)
Hamlet (The Barbican) – Horatio
Hamlet (The Barbican) – Rosencrantz
Hamlet (The Barbican) – Gertrude