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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
A Midsummer Night's Dream
by Lizzie Loveridge

Edward Hall's All Male Midsummer Night's DreamComes to BAM
Our London critic, Lizzie Loveridge, is never too tired to see yet another production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Since the Edward Hall production she reviewed in London has come to the Brooklyn Academy of Music with its cast and staging intact, we refer New York audiences to what she has to say below. The production can be seen at BAM's Harvey Theater -- 651 Fulton Street (718) 636-4100 -- Mar 16—20, 23—27 at 7:30pm; Mar 20 & 27 at 2pm and Mar 21 & 28 at 3pm. Tickets: $25, 40, 60. -- e.s.

How shall we find the concord of this discord?
--- Theseus
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Simon Scardfield as Puck
(Photo: Manuel Harlan)
It is a mysterious world of dreamscapes that Edward Hall has conjured for his touring production of A Midsummer Night's Dream which has come into London's Comedy Theatre for a summer season. The company he formed, based at the Watermill, West Berkshire Playhouse in Newbury, is the all male Propeller. Their aim: "to perform Shakespeare's plays with a contemporary aesthetic while maintaining the necessary emphasis on the spoken word".

Having seen Propeller's Rose Rage (See- review) and all male productions at Shakespeare's Globe, it is interesting to compare Propeller's take on this most performed of Shakespeare's comedies. In essence, this is not the Tudor/Jacobean practice to have slight boys with piping voices taking female roles, but grown men making few concessions to femininity in terms of voice, hair, clothes and so on. What the actors try for is not female impersonation, but to convey the emotion of the part, so that through these emotions the audience is convinced. This is Helena (Robert Hands), affronted, hurt, confused that she is the butt of a cruel joke on the part of Hermia (Jonathan McGuinness), Lysander (Dugald Bruce-Lockhart) and Demetrius (Vincent Leigh).

Edward Hall's emphasis is on discord, the deleterious effect on the harmony of nature of the falling out of Oberon (Guy Williams) and Titania (Richard Clothier), the fairy king and queen. Actors with harmonicas sound the discordant notes, sometimes annoying, at each distemperate scene. With most of the mechanicals doubling as other parts, there is weak development of their idiosyncrasies, important in the build for their roles in the final play of Pyramus and Thisbe. (I was almost hoping that Theseus had chosen one of the other plays on offer. Thisbe is so tedious dying that Lysander helps her on her way - "Die" he says as he pushes her over.) Instead this production gives us a splendid fairy kingdom, and exemplary lovers who scale the comic heights, a hard act for the mechanicals to follow. Like all plays directed by Edward Hall, songs feature strongly, both those in the text and other folk-type songs added for atmosphere.

Richard Clothier's Titania is regally middle aged, a welcome change from pretty-pretty, despite at times reminding me of Rik Mayall, more queenly than fairy. Her toe curling, coquettish reception of the donkey-dicked ass Bottom (Tony Bell) opens her to ridicule and has camp echoes of Rocky Horror's Frank'n'Furter. Oberon (Guy Williams) speaks his part with great clarity and dignity. Jonathan McGuinness and Robert Hands take the acting credits as Hermia and Helena in high farce. Much of the early humour is while the audience is adjusting to the cross gender casting. Hermia uses sheep's eyes and little flirtatious squeaks and when Lysander warns her of the danger to her maidenhood, she eagerly holds out her arms. Robert Hands is simply superlative as Helena, getting right inside her psyche. Simon Scardfield's white faced, androgynous Puck leaps balletically through clouds of dry ice sprinkling fairy dust and mayhem.

Michael Pavelka's set partially reminds of Peter Book's famous white set for Dream in 1970 with its white sheets and cobwebbed ladders, white painted chairs suspended high above the stage allowing an upper tier for performance, two of the chairs forming thrones. Centre stage a box opens to reveal another smaller box and from the ceiling white painted trees tumble out of another open box like the non sequiturs of a dream. Hall's innovative Dream is a most welcome addition to the West End although I still wish someone would recreate Beerbohm Tree's production of 1900 when live rabbits ran across the stage in the woodland scenes.

Note: this production is a part of the Ambassador Theatre Group's "Summer in the City" discount scheme. After Mrs Rochester (Duke of York's), Vincent in Brixton (Playhouse) and A Midsummer Night's Dream (Comedy) can be seen at bargain rates, all three for £10 each, or two of the above for £15 each or one for £20. Summer in the City booking line: 020 7369 1755.

A Midsummer Night's Dream
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Edward Hall

With: Tony Bell, Dugald Bruce-Lockhart, Richard Clothier, Emilio Doorgasingh, Matt Flynn, Robert Hands, Vincent Leigh, Jonathan McGuinness, Chris Myles, Simon Scardifield, Jules Werner, Guy Williams, Alasdair Craig, Alexander Giles
Designer: Michael Pavelka
Lighting Designer: Ben Ormerod
Music composed and arranged by Tony Bell, Dugald Bruce-Lockhart, Jules Werner
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes with no interval .
Box Office: 0870 060 6622
Booking to 25th October 2003
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 14th August 2003 Performance at the Comedy Theatre, Panton Street London SW1 (Tube/Rail Station: Piccadilly Circus)
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