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A Midsummer Night's Dream (RSC)

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
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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.


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