The dream that died
THEATRE: A Midsummer Night's Dream; Almeida, London
Friday 13 December 1996
Before now, though, the otherworldliness of these creatures has been respected. Except for the unnatural pallor with which they've been equipped, this is not the case in Miller's production, set in a sort of Mitford Girls 1930s, where visually the distinction between the fairy realm and the drawling toff world of country house and park has been erased. When Jason Watkins's Cockney-accented, tailcoated flunky of a Puck says "Up and down, up and down, / I will lead them up and down", it's in the "a woman's work is never done" tones of a disaffected servant forced to labour up and down stairs. You'd never guess that this was a globe-trotting sprite cocky with his capacity for magical pranks. There's even a defensive insecure bravado here in his claim that "I am fear'd in field and town". He and his lookalike coevals seem to be jumped-up working-class snobs who can only very reluctantly bring themselves to consort with the likes of Peter Baylis's rough-hewn Bottom when he is doted on by Angela Thorne's imperiously cut-glass, evening-gowned Titania.
That's typical of the joylessness that pervades this production. In the dubious interests of suggesting that all the creaturely levels in the Dream are social mirrors of each other, it manages to make virtually everyone (from the snooty, braying lovers to the snide fairy underlings) unsympathetic and to turn the play into the most thuddingly prosaic gloss on the English class system you've ever witnessed.
"There is no need for enchanting marvels and special effects," Miller argues in the programme. Perhaps not, but a Dream without any poetic magic whatsoever is like an Esther Williams movie without water. The Quay Brothers' design, which attempts to re-create the wood as a maze of cloudy, glassed- in partitions, is more muddle than mystery, enclosing over half the stage in what looks like musty museum cabinets, reducing room for manoeuvre and offering no clear rationale for when the lovers are supposed to be in the maze or out in the open area downstage.
There are two compensations. As Lysander, Angus Wright manages a beautiful switch from ganglingly bashful upper-class chump to (courtesy of the magic juice) a Don Giovanni-humming smoothie. And in the play-within-the-play, Toby Jones's "Thisbe" gets so hilariously into this heroine's drawn-out seppuku-like suicide (eat your heart out, Yukio Mishima) that he doesn't notice the show has ended and everyone else is being congratulated by the audience.
But Miller's production, as a whole, is a pointless denial of the Dream's poetry (it's characteristic that, when delivering the line "I know a bank where the wild thyme blows", Norman Rodway's Oberon punctuates it with a smoker's cough). It also rationalises the fairies out of all but utilitarian existence. The evening feels like the work of someone who, when he was a child watching Peter Pan, would have allowed Tinkerbell to die, rather than clap his hands. To 1 Feb. Booking: 0171-359 4404 Paul Taylor
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Cyclist who knocked down three-year-old girl says his life has been 'destroyed'
- 2 A politically correct lefty goes to see Top Gear live – you'll probably believe what happened next
- 3 Young Preston fan has play-off hero Jermaine Beckford's shirt stolen from him at Wembley - which then appears for sale on Gumtree
- 4 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
- 5 Puerto Rico, island of lost dreams: People are leaving the debt-hit territory in droves as near neighbour Cuba's star rises
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
EU referendum: David Cameron to deny EU migrants and under-18s the chance to vote
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people