NOTE: The following review dates from April 2005 and this production's original run in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Three years ago the RSC hit, as it were, rock Bottom with a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which was as big a critical flop as the previous one, three years before, had been a hit.

There was never any likelihood that associate director Gregory Doran, who directs this, the opening play in the company’s new Comedies season, would make an ass of himself with this perennial favourite. Nevertheless, although the RSC may now be financially in the black, it’s not yet there critically. Success in the Swan has not translated into a consistent body of work in the RST. Indeed the RSC’s recent successes have chiefly been with the work of writers other than Shakespeare.

Doran goes some way to restoring solvency with this enjoyable, visually spectacular production, the high point of which is undoubtedly the staging, by Bottom and his fellow mechanicals, of the ‘most lamentable tragedy’ of Pyramus and Thisbe for the chilly Athenian court. Malcolm Storry as Pyramus, looking and sounding for all the world like Noddy Holder, made me metaphorically beat the canvas in submission, although I was incapable of anything but struggling for breath.

Elsewhere Doran’s production brings undertones of darkness but not the wholesale monochrome of Richard Jones’ interpretation three years ago. This Dream, designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis, is frequently gorgeous, although the evocation of the forest through an accumulation of furniture, musical instruments and other detritus, will not be to everyone’s taste.

The setting is non-specifically modern although a somewhat confusing opening scene featuring ancient armour has you momentarily wondering if you’ve stumbled into a production of Troilus and Cressida by error. And indeed there’s a certain lack of focus overall about the production, despite its many fine qualities. The use of puppets to conjure up fairies and the changeling child are less dramatic than might be expected. The performances however are very good; some, excellent.

Chief among them is Joe Dixon, who confirms his earlier promise in the RSC’s recent Jacobethan season with a beautifully-spoken Oberon. There’s fine work too from Paul Chahidi as Peter Quince, Jonathan Slinger as a disgruntled, punkish Puck and Sinead Keenan as Hermia.

While there isn’t the sense of revelation that informed Doran’s Taming of the Shrew, this Dream offers beguiling diversion in, to paraphrase Don McLean, a starry, Storry night.

- Pete Wood