A Midsummer Night’s Dream
17 March 2011
Production by Headlong Theatre / Nuffield Southampton / Hull Truck
Directed by Natalie Abrahami
Theseus / Oberon – Justin Avoth
Demetrius / Tom Snout – Max Bennett
Hermia – Faye Castelow
Francis Flute – Michael Dylan
Robin Goodfellow / Puck – Sandy Grierson
Hippolyta / Titania – Emily Joyce
Lysander / Snug – Oliver Kiera-Jones
Bottom – Christopher Logan
Helena – Deirde Mullins
Egeus / Peter Quince – David Shaw-Porter
We’re on familiar name terms. I just call it ‘the Dream.’ We’re like that, me and the Dream, after seeing it so many times. I saw the Peter Brook trapezes and twin drummer version. I saw the John Caird punk one on a junk heap with schoolgirl fairies, and Richard McCabe as the definitive Puck, and David Troughton as Bottom. I always enjoy it. The programme notes give a useful performance history. I had never realized that its popularity post-dates the great Victorian actor managers, who avoided it because there was no clear leading role, or star vehicle.
Let’s get the ending right before there’s any carping. This energetic 2011 production scores nine out of ten. (Only Brooks and Caird got the full ten, but both were creating theatre history).
Film sequence: Where The Wild Thyme Blows
The main “conceit” in this one is that it takes place on the Hollywood set of “Where The Wild Thyme Blows”, an epic by Athens Pictures. That gives it a beginning with projected film, the rude mechanicals of the play within a play are grips and sound recordists rather than carpenters, weavers, and joiners. Their role as actors in the film gives a reason for Demetrius, Hermia, Lysander and Helen to be wearing their wispy Greek costumes after the director shouts “cut.” Robin Goodfellow (aka Puck) is the film’s director with a comedy American accent. That might refer back to another production, the 1935 Hollywood movie featuring James Cagney as Bottom and Micky Rooney as Puck (and actually, that casting worked!) This Puck was well-acted, but conceptually didn’t come off. It’s easy to say “Think Groucho Marx as Puck.” It’s much harder to do it while spouting Shakespearean verse devoid of wisecracks. As Puck he moved like a monkey with his trousers rolled up and a pipe in his mouth. The funny American accent drifted.
The Greek costume as”actors”: Hermia and Lysander
The film set gives some wonderful business with wardrobes, lighting towers and steps. It would be a major plot spoiler to say how and why. How far you can stretch it conceptually is a hard one. It doesn’t bear rational investigation. Everyone doubles up, and the costume contrast (Greek / 1940s) helps. It’s become the norm to double Theseus / Oberon and Hippolyta / Titania, but in this case the Demetrius and Lysander have to double as rude mechanicals, which also results in Pyramus and Thisbe being done with three instead of five. More later. The lovers also have to double as the fairies, in incongruous striped shirts and 3D glasses.
The liberties taken are the high point. Pop songs feature, and the fairies singing Shakespeare’s words over the Everly Brothers “All I Have To Do To Dream” lulls Titania to sleep. “Up On The Roof” becomes a Bottom / Titania duet. A quick Macbeth quote jumps into the script. In the second act, Love Potion No 9 is played but not pointed like the other songs. It should have been brought up to the same prominence … everyone enjoyed the pop songs so much in Act One, that you felt the absence in Act Two.
Christopher Logan as Bottom
Christopher Logan is an interesting Bottom. He plays it like Kenneth Williams on one of his camper days, which is wonderful in the rehearsal scene, though it loses the usual phallic donkey jokes in the Titania scenes. Where it really, really works is as Pyramus. Logan is the best Pyramus I’ve ever seen, and Michael Dylan is as good as any Thisbe. They’re wearing the costumes and in Thisbe’s case, the wig, which Theseus and Hippolyta were wearing in the filmed beginning. i.e. before the play starts. And the Pyramus and Thisbe stripped to three, with David Shaw-Parker playing Peter Quince, The Wall, The Lion and the Moon is probably the funniest all-round one too. I laughed out loud right through.
Demetrius and Lysander restrain Hermia
The physicality of the four star-crossed lovers echoes the Brooks production closely, and here the Hollywood epic actors idea helps as the lads strike beefcake poses in competition. The height difference between Hermia and Helen is just right (not overdone), as is their very physical argument. The lovers have changed out of their Greek gear when they flee to the forest, but bits of costume, helmets and breast-plates, keep re-appearing
I’m noting smoking in every theatre review this year, just because it happens in nearly every play. Here it really was gratuitous. They decided to give Puck a pipe and lighter. OK, applying the lighter to magic flowers is a device. Blowing smoke to perform a spell looks good. But why did Theseues / Oberon have to sit at the side unobtrusively, puffing cigarettes? OK, Hollywood actors (which he is here) smoked. It’s not an essential, and with an 80% plus schoolkid matinee audience, I didn’t like it.
REVIEWS OF OTHER PRODUCTIONS OF “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on this blog:
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – BBC TV SCREEN version 2016