A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Watermill, Newbury

Even fairy dust won't turn these Dream boys into girls

Rhoda Koenig
Monday 17 February 2003 01:00

Where Edward Hall is concerned, boys will not only be boys – they stay boys. His all-male cast are attired in long underwear, some of it with low necks to show their hairy chests; even, in the case of fairy Puck, above a tutu and Pippi Longstocking tights.

Frocks (but no wigs) are donned by the female characters, leading to some curious sights. Robert Hands, a bulky fellow in a corset over his sailor blouse and tight skirt, flapping his wrists, looks like an unhappy occupant of a 1920s dive. The imposing Richard Clothier is a rather Wagnerian Titania, his cropped hair disconcerting over black lace and green gauze, the skirt fasteners round his brawny arms big enough to restrain an elephant.

Michael Pavelka's design signals topsy-turvydom and jolly japes, but is that all we want from A Midsummer Night's Dream? The important adjectives associated with this play are "magical" and "musical," neither of which would occur to a spectator here. The lack of feminine charm and elegance in the actors' appearance and movement is not all that's awry. The cast speak in a manner that is often sloppy. Several times we hear of the "nup-shu-als", and I was startled when a chorus exhorted: "Work while the Jew is sparkling!"

Their voices are only mechanisms, not instruments. There is no sense of the lines being dainty or voluptuous, of words being savoured, of the wanderers in the forest being bewitched by their spell as much as by the fairy dust Guy Williams's crabby Oberon flings about. Nor are the characterisations sharp enough. Emilio Doorgasingh's goofy smile gives no hint of Hippolyta's discomfort as her marriage to Theseus draws near; nor does Matt Flynn's Theseus convey enough of the haughty arrogance that causes her disquiet.

Tony Bell doesn't seem ebullient enough as Bottom, but he makes a sweet ass-headed love object, with his false front teeth and George Formby accent, his woollen cap swapped for long woollen ears. This seems the extent of his metamorphosis, until Puck pulls down his trousers to reveal a woolly member the length of a draught excluder.

If Hall's approach is too prosaic for the main part of the comedy, his schoolboy fun is just right for the Pyramus-Thisbe play. Jonathan McGuinness, who has been a poignant, earnest Hermia, makes a hilariously timid Snug, his face that of a bewildered pierrot and his lion's mane making him look as ferocious as a sunflower. Though Flute is usually embarrassed at playing a lady, Jules Werner dives headlong into his impersonation of Thisbe, leaping about like a ballerina on an acid trip. It rather misses the point of the play, however, if its most successful scene is one that clumsily mocks transformation and passionate love. Like the fairies, huddled spoon-fashion and blowing tunelessly into mouth organs, this production subjects us to too many sour notes.

To 22 March (01635 46044)

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