at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Saturday 6th August 2011
We see Shakespeare’s most famous plays so often that they can fail to give us anything new on each subsequent visit. Every now and then, however, a production comes along which makes us see a play completely afresh. Nancy Meckler’s somewhat psychadelic production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream puts a whole new perspective on this loved comedy, and provides some of the funniest moments of Shakespeare I’ve seen.
Meckler’s concept makes perfect sense; the world of Athens is a patriarchal, tyrannical warehouse, where women are not listened to. As Hippolyta (Pippa Nixon) falls asleep and becomes Titania in her dream world, her desires and worries are played out in front of her; her realisation then leads to the cleansing of the tyranny of Theseus’ (Jo Stone-Fewings) court. The lovers are part of this world, shown by some sensuous and mesmerizing physical theatre.
The four lovers are on fine form. The gentle Nathaniel Martello-White is given a run for his money by Matti Houghton’s fiery Hermia, while Alex Hassell’s powerful Demetrius is matched perfectly with the Lucy Briggs-Owen’s extraordinary and neurotic Helena. Nixon and Stone-Fewings are both calm, considered beings, and should be matched again soon. Arsher Ali’s plain-spoken Puck begins a little shakily, but quickly has the audience in the palm of his hand.
The Rude Mechanicals naturally give us the majority of laughs, presided over by Marc Wootton’s oblivious but remarkably charming Bottom. Michael Grady-Hall’s androgynous Flute and an autistic Snug (Felix Hayes) mean this isn’t your usual set of wannabe-thesps. Their performance of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ matches anything in One Man, Two Guvnors.
Katrina Lindsay’s set turns from whitewashed blandness to colourful dream-world with the help of Wolfgang Gobbel’s glorious turquoise and orange lighting. What we are watching is clearly a dream, as pillows and chairs cover the stage and characters never feel quite human. Keith Clouston’s imposing score has a variety of moods, from thunderous drum beats to jovial jigs.
What Nancy Meckler has done with this Dream is to show that’s exactly what it is; a dream. The lack of ‘magic tricks’ actually makes the production far more magical, and the energy never drops. This is in fact a production showing the redemptive power of sleep and the importance of dreams, whatever their form. Now truly settling into their new home, the Royal Shakespeare Company is well and truly back in business.