SCARVES, GLOVES, fur hats and overcoats at A Midsummer Night's Dream? It sounds more like the audience at the annual premiere of the Open Air Theatre season in Regent's Park. That's how the Athenian courtiers are clad, though, under the snowdrifts in the first scene of Michael Boyd's new production at Stratford - as bizarre surely, as setting Summer Holiday in a raging blizzard?
Not at all: Boyd has taken his cue for this inclemency from Titania's lines about how Oberon's jealous quarrel with her has warped the natural course of the seasons so that "hoary-headed frosts/Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose". The production treats this at face value: it's one of the many ways Boyd's exhilarating and very funny staging heightens a sense of the weirdness of the world into which the Dream sucks us. Aidan McArdle's excellent, insinuating little Irish Puck is surely the first ever to have administered the magic juice by dumping the whole flower, plus its roots and a great deal of soil, on to the sleeping lovers' faces. Talk about corner-cutting, an exercise he later takes further by just plonking these daft horticultural deposits directly on to their crotches.
There's a headlong, ludic madness and a real bite to the enchantment in this production, which is the first of a season that sees a welcome change in the configuration of stage and audience in the main house at Stratford. A large oval shape, the stage now pushes more intimately towards the seating which, as a result, has had to curve at the sides. Through trapdoors, the fairies erupt with alarming suddenness, their gestures disconcertingly random. At the head of this bunch are Nicholas Jones and Josette Simon, the sexiest, most commanding Oberon and Titania of recent years. On legs that make Cyd Charisse look like Toulouse Lautrec, Ms Simon stalks about with a hair-raising primal energy, sexually devours Danielle Ryan's Bottom and throws herself into stamping, erotic dances. Here's an Amazon who could polish off Tina Turner and Grace Jones for breakfast and still have room for Aretha Franklin.
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