A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, Monday 1st August, 2011
Transporting The Merchant of Venice to modern day Las Vegas worked very well, but on this occasion, updating the setting of the court of Theseus and the forest of Athens is not as successful. Duke Theseus resides in a stark and empty warehouse of a palace, all dirty, white-washed bricks and industrial staircases. The only concession to luxury is white leather Chesterfield furniture. His courtiers wear sharp suits and narrow ties, his sulky queen a fur coat over her cocktail dress. We are in 1960s gangland, although the accents make it more Guy Ritchie than Brat Pack. This is all well and good as far as it goes but when the scene shifts to the woods and the fairies appear, the design concept for this production is a real let-down. Rather than a race of other-worldly, ethereal beings, Oberon’s people resemble nothing more than a troupe of Performing Arts students earnestly giving their all in the end of term show. A bit of chiffon and some contemporary dance doesn’t cut it with me. Puck has lost his playfulness and has become a bland, head prefect in an overall coated with neckties. He is like someone at the office party who dons a paper hat as a substitute for personality.
Among the human characters there is some excellent comic playing, most notably from the consistently excellent Alex Hassell as Demetrius and Lucy Briggs-Owen as Helena. But, as I invariably find with this play, the show belongs to the rude mechanicals, and this production boasts a wonderful bunch. Marc Wootton (TV’s Shirley Ghostman) is an ebullient Bottom but he is more than matched by Christopher Godwin as Quince and Felix Hayes as Snug. Again, the design element lets them down. Rather than trees, children’s chairs are suspended from the ceiling. The rivals in love have a pillow fight but their costumes become muddier rather than coated in feathers or kapok. I found the design concept got in the way of both play and players. It doesn’t really gel or make sense.
I’m not going to make the lazy quip: “A Midsummer Night’s Nightmare more like!” because I like to feel I’m above that and there is much to delight in this production, but I left the RST thinking “What a shame,” and “What fools these designers be!”