I will freely admit that A Midsummer Night's Dream is not my favourite
Shakespeare play. Occasionally a production will come along that will
make me appreciate it with fresh eyes - most recently Edward Hall's
touring production with Propeller did just that. I had high hopes
that the Royal Shakespeare Company, who have been producing some
excellent work in their 50th Anniversary Season so far this, would
deliver something equally memorable.
I guess, in one way, they did. But perhaps not for the right reasons.
It is, for my money, the worst thing in the current season - possibly
the worst production in a number of years. Nancy Meckler has
delivered something that lacks any clarity of vision, any sense of
purpose or any artistic coherence.
The Athenian court is transformed into a subterranean warehouse where
drugs and alcohol seem to be rife and there is an air of menace
pervading all the relationships and interactions. The forest is
depicted by brightly coloured plastic chairs descending on ropes from
the ceiling - occasionally rising and falling when the love-potion is
being administered. For me, neither setting seems appropriate for the
text, the characters or their situation.
The costumes move from gangster/Mafioso style suits for the Athenian
elite to a rather ill-defined eclecticism for the immortals in the
forest. Again. none of this serves to illuminate the play.
I get the feeling that Meckler has a rather scatter gun approach to
this production - spraying ideas about and hoping that some of them
work. Unfortunately in a play that is so delicately balanced, you
need a more considered approach to achieve success.
It is a shame that so many fine actors are in the cast. They are all
working incredibly hard but the direction is letting them down. Pippa
Nixon makes a strong impression as Titania - but her first encounter
with Bottom is undermined by some cheap gags based around a large
sausage. Similarly Marc Wootton makes a very creditable RSC debut as
Bottom - displaying enormous energy and comedic skill - but his
performance is hampered by the urge to play for a laugh rather than
allowing laughs to come. There is much to commend in terms of the
performances given by the cast - however what they have been asked to
do just feels so wrong.
There are moments of genuine humour - Snug (Felix Hayes) has a
wonderful time as the Lion in the final scene and there is some great
slapstick between the lovers in the forest. However these highlights
are too few and far between to make up for the rest.
Add to all of this some poor movement work and a running time that is
just over three hours (including the interval) and I left the theatre
angry and upset at the whole experience.
I have been urging as many people as I can to secure tickets for the
current productions of The Merchant of Venice, Cardenio and The Homecoming. I will certainly not be advising people to make the time
to see this very peculiar Dream.