Very rude, very mechanical

A Midsummernight's Dream | Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, London
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The Independent Culture

Thank heaven for the moon - the real moon, that is, not the one that walks about with a lantern and a dog. And thanks, too, for the murmurous trees of Regent's Park and the stray pigeons' coo, else there might not be any poetry at the New Shakespeare Company's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Thank heaven for the moon - the real moon, that is, not the one that walks about with a lantern and a dog. And thanks, too, for the murmurous trees of Regent's Park and the stray pigeons' coo, else there might not be any poetry at the New Shakespeare Company's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Kit Surrey's steep staircase and matching floor, like that of a town hall that has splashed out on marble-patterned lino, set the unmagical tone. No chance, with this backdrop, of convincing us that we're in an enchanted wood, especially not with Titania's attendants in camouflage tights that hardly flatter the more mature fairies.

The court at Athens wears mid-Victorian dress. This accentuates the pomposity of Harry Burton's Theseus, but elsewhere appears pointless and even puzzling. Stripped of their dresses and petticoats by the naughty sprites, Hermia and Helena show no embarrassment at being seen in corsets and drawers by their young men, or the Duke and Hermia's father.

Logic, however, is no more director Alan Strachan's strong suit than femininity or sexual delicacy. When Sally Hawkins's Hermia speaks, she expresses emotion by slicing the air in semaphore; when silent, she nods and pulls faces to emphasise her listening skills. At the height of her rage with Helena, she squats, arms curved ready to spring, rolling her eyes and pushing out her lower lip like a crazed gorilla.

Tam Williams's Lysander, uncouth and sullen, is equally self-absorbed, whining and flouncing his way into the forest. One drop of fairy liquid, however, and he sheds his girlishness for unabashed priapism (the magic flower is supposed to be a love charm, not an aphrodisiac). Since Lysander doesn't dare make such advances to bossy Hermia, perhaps he really is better suited to Helena. As his new love, Sarah Tansey isn't much of an improvement, with her comic blubbering - we might smile at her offering to be Demetrius's spaniel, but she shouldn't think she's funny.

Bawling and barking their way through this disturbing fantasy, Strachan's actors turn it into raucous, clumsy farce. Paul Bradley's Bambi-like ass's head contributes the only sweetness among the dull mechanicals, though it contrasts oddly with Strachan's penchant for cock jokes. Likewise, Paul Kemp's goatskin breeches are all that is fairy-like about his rough-trade Puck. Bawdiness is hardly out of place in the Dream, but the sexual illusions here don't grow out of any humane or poetic vision.

Nor is verbal music all that's misused: Strachan, typically, sends in the clowns to a tune that suggests Laurel and Hardy. One leaves thinking that Bottom had the best advice for staging not only "Pyramus and Thisbe", but the larger play as well: "Find out moonshine."

* In rep to 9 Sept, 020-7486 2431

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