First Impressions: 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', RSC, August 1970

John Barber,The Daily Telegraph
Friday 01 February 2008 01:00

In a production that will surely make theatre history, Peter Brook last night tore through all conventional ideas about how the play should be staged. He found new ways of giving form to its poetry and power.

For setting, he offers a dazzling white box. The only furniture is four white cushions. Trapezes hang from the flies. Iron ladders extend to a platform where musicians are stationed. The naked harshness of this environment is used by Mr Brook as a means to expose the actors' words and emotions.

The midnight wood is created with a galaxy of tricks. The trees are steel spirals held on fishing rods from above, and in the helical coils the lovers will be enmeshed. And when Titania sees Bottom translated, suddenly Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" blares forth and the stage fills with confetti the size of plates.

Such devices sound mere gimmickry. I can only report that they held me enthralled as the mood of the play leapt from horseplay to startling bawdry, from poetic dignity to seething eroticism and to alarming chases up and down the ladders.

Old lines came up fresh and comic, or distressingly apt. For it was Mr Brook's triumph to generate an atmosphere in which only the poetry mattered. The lovers were as exposed and as distraught as modern adolescents. Mr Brook has found a way of making Shakespeare eloquent to this generation.

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