A Midsummer Night's Dream, Novello Theatre, London
Thursday 22 January 2009
You can usually bank on "The Dream" not lasting more than three hours, but Gregory Doran's fussy, unerotic RSC revival – a retread of his far more spirited 2005 "bottom of a supermarket trolley" Stratford-upon-Avon production – trundles on past the three-hour mark through the unfunniest "Pyramus and Thisbe" interlude I've seen in ages.
It seemed symptomatic of the show that the marriage party is almost entirely oblivious to the effortful cavorting of the mechanicals. "I kiss the wall's hole, not your lips at all" involved some dubious pouting on either side of Snout's red underpants. The chink in the wall is his groin.
This is not lofty. This is laboured. In this process of RSC italicisation, every point is thumped home with literal insistence and any imagery in the words is accompanied by a physical illustration. Thus any reference to an animal is mimed. Any reference to a moon is accompanied by a lunar gaze.
Sometimes the welter of detail pays off. The opening submission of old Egeus make good sense, and sets the scene for a spiral of volatility, as he rants in favour of a suited Demetrius (very well played by Edward Bennett, the heroic Hamlet understudy) against a hippy-dippy Lysander (Tom Davey). And Francis O'Connor's forest of light bulbs, reflected in a wall of mirrors, is a constant reminder of the play's emotional symmetry.
Peter de Jersey's notably well-spoken Oberon (bucking the general trend) and Andrea Harris's Titania are suspended in the welkin by over-visible harnesses when they rock the ground, and the descendent bower is a plastic crescent, awkward for fairy frolicking. Those fairies, too, are multiplied and then armed with puppets, inanimate relations of the doll-like Indian boy at the heart of the quarrel.
Joe Dixon, formerly Oberon, now paunchier if not punchier, is the new Brummie Bottom in a donkey jacket. When transformed, the ass's head covers his completely, a real throwback to the bad old days. Mark Hadfield's Puck is a disgruntled, viperish little chap, cheekily putting his girdle round the earth in 40 minutes.
But Natalie Walter and Kathryn Drysdale as Helena and Hermia suffer in the over-signalling of their performances. The great ding-dong for the lovers' quartet lacks any momentum in these circumstances. The dynamics are all wrong. Too much acting.
To 7 February (0844 482 5135; rsc.org.uk/london)
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