A Midsummer Night's Dream, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Fairyland is missing some magic
Monday 08 August 2011
Nancy Meckler's mainstage revival of A Midsummer Night's Dream has bags of verve and variety, so it's disappointing to report that it lacks any strong sense of a distinctive overarching vision.
Athens is re-imagined as a bleak underground concrete bunker, an ideal venue for committing a gangland murder, and Jo Stone-Fewings's Theseus – with his floozy molls and his suited henchmen – becomes a Sixties East End capo di tutti capi. Huddled in fur on the white Chesterfield, his bride-to-be Hippolyta (Pippa Nixon) is a gloweringly reluctant trophy fiancée and spits on his proffered hand. No danger here of missing the point that this is a male-dominated society.
In the dream world of the wood outside Athens, the dolly birds and the thugs, now kitted out with tutus and eccentric accessories, are metamorphosed into that other Rat Pack, the fairies. Stone-Fewings and Nixon double, beautifully, as Oberon and Titania and one of the loveliest sequence in the production is the sexy dance during which the King and Queen of the Fairies reinvest each other with the clothes of their Athenian counterparts and suddenly come round from their long reverie in a fleeting moment of delighted recognition that their feud has been resolved by their proxy selves.
The hints of distorted reflection are otherwise weak. This theatre is so lofty that a director is forced to dangle things from the ceiling or die, but the coloured chairs that bob about on strings carry only a weak transformative charge as a confusing thicket and Arsher's Ali bearded, lanky, strangely undangerous Puck, wreathed in a multiplicity of ties comes over as a nice chap suffering from chronic indecision over his neckwear rather than a mischievous sprite with a latent penchant for blindfolding or strangling.
In compensation, the slapstick brawls of the lovers are a hoot, with Lucy Briggs-Owen particularly funny as a posh King's Road-style Helena. And Marc Wootton is an adorably bumptious boiler-suited Bottom, rolling over the stage in every available direction in his clattering tin armour rather than put Pyramus's hilariously protracted death scene out of its misery. The mechanicals' play-within-the-play lurches forward like an enjoyable parody of bunglingly inept eclecticism. A good night out, then, but, unlike Bottom, you don't emerge feeling that you have had "a most rare vision".
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