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A Midsummer Night's Dream
by Lizzie Loveridge
How difficult it is to produce an original rendering of A Midsummer Night's Dream without appearing gimmicky. The current "dream" from the Royal Shakespeare Company, directed by Michael Boyd, reinvents the comedy for a twentieth century audience and has the most wonderful movement and design.
As the play opens figures clad in long coats, all grey and black like monochrome, perfectly still, are assembled round a semi-circular backdrop of bleached pine and originally, though not to one familiar with English weather, to a light falling of snow. Here Theseus, Nicholas Jones, presents his bride, Hippolyta, Josette Simon. She is so elegant, so queenly, transfixing as she glides around the stage. By contrast the lovers, Hermia, Catherine Kanter and Lysander, Fergus O'Donnell are almost pastiche as their vows of undying love seem ridiculous as only those addicted to romance appear to the cynical. Complicating the pair are Demetrius, Henry Ian Cusick, chosen by her father Aegeus, Geoffrey Whitehead, to be Hermia's husband, and Hermia's tall friend Helena, played by Hermione Gulliford. The lovers are always faintly ridiculous as they condemn themselves out of their own mouths but here is high comedy as they send themselves up. In Puck's words, "What fools these mortals be!"
By contrast, the rude mechanicals, TUC (Trades Union Congress) grey suited, dance a vigorous dance based on the South African "gumboot" dance. Nick Ryan is as endearing a Bottom as one could hope for. Like a child, his enthusiasm runs to wanting to play all the parts of the play. The comic performances from the mechanicals are fresh and would not be out of place in the Comedy Store. Puck, Aidan McArdle, is a leprechaun of a fairy and his encounter with Peaseblossom, Sirine Saba, is mischievous and erotic as they rip each other's formal wear to pieces in a mock strip fight.
The entrance of Titania is dazzling. Here the luminous Josette Simon, wearing black feathers in her hair, holds her arms with fingers outstretched, almost quivering. She is magical as the Queen of the Fairies should be. Physically she appears other worldly. Oberon, Nicholas Jones, is a powerful figure who controls through the use of magic.
Go to see this visually delightful play with its red flowers which grow in front of our eyes, Titania's black sleigh bed, the Bauhaus style chairs, the flowing silks of the fairy costumes, the stylised Athenian court, the brilliant moonlight and the spheres of light.
Tom Piper is the seminal designer but this is not one of those over designed productions. While the modernity of the comedy, the excess of slapstick may annoy some purists, most will be enchanted. During the mechanicals' play, the director, Peter Quince, Peter Kelly, comes on looking exactly as we think Shakespeare did, in black velvet suit with long hair hanging limply from his bald pate. He nervously chain smokes throughout and mouths every word along with his cast, throwing up his eyes each time they say Ninny's tomb instead of Nine-as.
You will remember this thrilling production. It is a dreamscape that could not fail to delight the "Man of the Millennium", William Shakespeare.