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A CurtainUp London London Review
A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream returns to London
by Lizzie Loveridge
Gregory Doran has recast his production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which last came to the Novello Theatre in London in 2006. The production remains essentially the same with its reinterpretation of the mechanicals and the fairies which are altogether more nether worldly than cutesy.

Having seen it again, I think the design and modern dress costume is now outstanding with the giant moon, sometimes lit red sometimes green dominating that stage to reflect all the mention of the moon in the play. Stephen Brimson Lewis’ original designs have been reinterpreted by Francis O’Connor and the rear of the set is the black mirrored back drop used for the RSC production of Hamlet. There is also Theseus and Hippolta’s hunting scene in full British hunting uniform red coats and all, Puck’s developing his satyr horns which seem to grow as the play progresses and of course the darkly dressed quirky fairies who hide behind the wire coat hangers and underwear that they have filched from the luggage of the lovers. I also don’t remember that Oberon and Titania actually flew as they do in this latest production!

Joe Dixon rings the changes here swapping his Oberon role for that of Bottom in 2009 wearing a fat top to make his handsome physique more fitting to the body image of the bombastic and bumbling Warwickshire tradesman Bottom. Peter de Jersey takes over as Oberon but again keeping to Doran’s concept that Oberon too is a die-hard romantic with sentimental scenes. I liked too the puppetry of the changeling child more than I remember. The lovers seemed not as strong as I remembered them but overall this production of Dream is as lovely as you could hope to find.

I was particularly struck by how beautiful the verse and imagery are which is spoken so clearly and with understanding. The jokes of the mechanicals’ wore a little thin but that is because for me it was a re-telling of the same joke, for those fresh to this production there would not be a problem.

Production Notes
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Gregory Doran
Starring: Joe Dixon, Peter de Jersey, Mark Hadfield, Andrea Harris
With: Robert Curtis, Riann Steele, Sam Alexander, Keith Osborne, Kathryn Drysdale, Edward Bennett, Tom Davey, Natalie Walter, Roderick Smith, Ryan Gage, Jim Hooper, Ricky Champ, Ewen Cummings, Mariah Gale, David Ajala, Samuel Dutton, Zoe Thorne
Designer: Francis O’Connor
Lighting designer: Tim Mitchell
Composer: Paul Englishby
Sound designer: Martin Slavin
Choreographer: Michael Ashcroft
Areial Choreography: Gavin Marshall
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 950 0935
Booking to 7 February 2009
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 20th January 2009 performance at the Novello, Aldwych, London WC2 (Tube: Charing Cross)

The original review
'I must go seek some dewdrops here, And hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear.
---- Fairy
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Joe Dixon as Oberon and Amanda Harris as Titania
(Photo: Stewart Hemley)
Gregory Doran's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream takes me back to the heady days of the 1980s and early 1990s when the Royal Shakespeare Company could do no wrong, when the very name RSC was synonymous with that which is most exciting in theatre. This play has been so often performed by every Shakespeare Company, college and school, its best poetry has become so familiar, it has been accused of cliché. How then to bring a spirit of freshness? We had Edward Hall's all male production from Propeller, Dawn French's female Bottom and even a Dream set in the snowy landscape of winter. Gregory Doran does not have one ambitious and encompassing idea but rather small details which liven up the process.

Stephen Brimson Lewis' set is dominated by an enormous orb of a moon, that planetary influence which affects mortals and fairies alike. The rest of the design is original and sometimes works well. The fairies hide behind structures of wire coat hangers on which are an assortment of frilly briefs - quite why I daren't venture to guess - but the faces in the bushes work well. When we first see the fairies, a backdrop of shadow fairies plays on a slide with coloured oil floating and changing shape like a miniature version of a lava lamp. These fairies are creatures of the night, dark, sinister and potentially malevolent rather than cutesy.

The lovers, like all the cast, are in modern dress. They are set firmly in adolescence, at least the girls are. Helena (Caitlin Mottram) has lots of jolly hockey sticks about her. She and Hermia (Sinéad Keenan)alk like teenage girls, with Hermia passing on her wisdom as to how to get a boyfriend as if out of some teen magazine. The male lovers are a delightful contrast. Demetrius (Oscar Pearce), a city gent, smug with the approval of Egeus (Tom Hodgkins), and surly and rebellious Lysander (Trystan Gravelle) with long hair and casually dressed. The highlight of the lovers' scenes is as ever in the second half when the spat produces some original comedy. They slap each other as if passing on the insult.

Watching this slapstick is Oberon (Joe Dixon) and this is the first time I have seen Oberon, as tall as sexy as only a Fairy King can be, but with the mentality of a fan of teenage soap serials. He stands wrapped in the lovers' story like a love sick calf. He looks so affected by Helena's predicament, I thought he might actually burst into tears. Puck or Robin Goodfellow (Jonathan Slinger) is curious, rather camp and overweight with a shock of red hair and conveying the unpredictable quality of this naughty fairy. I liked too the use of a child puppet as the changeling child that Oberon and Titania (Amanda Harris) argue about.

As in other productions I've seen the rude mechanicals are played in a Midlands brogue of the sort that Shakespeare would have heard around Warwickshire. Malcolm Storry dominates as Nick Bottom, but strangely, despite all his bravado and braying, when it comes to his actual performance in front of Theseus (Miles Richardson) and Hippolyta (Bridgitta Roy) he is stage struck and embarrassed. By contrast Jamie Ballard as Thisbe rises to the occasion and finds a thespian depth never before achieved by the mechanicals. The "wall" scenes have Wall (David Rogers) getting his arms and hands stuck in his costume that the only chink he can portray is where his legs meet his crotch. This puts a very different comic slant on Pyramus and Thisbe's whispered declarations of love close to Wall's red Y-fronts. The lion's tail is several feet too long and swipes the audience inadvertently in this raucously pleasing play.

Drawing the play to a close, the dance in which the well bred Athenians mix with the tradesmen, is a version of a Greek one with handkerchiefs parodying the way the troupe at Shakespeare's Globe end their nightly proceedings. The designer switches frm black costumes to white for Theseus and Hippolyta and Oberon and Titania for the wedding scenes as order is retored. Funny and fresh, Gregory Doran's productions are so pleasurable as to be unmissable.

For reviews of other Midsummer Nights' productions, see our Shakespeare page or Master Index

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Gregory Doran

Starring: Joe Dixon, Malcolm Storry, Amanda Harris, Jonathan Slinger
With: Miles Richardson, Bridgitta Roy, Tom Hodgkins, Sinéad Keenan, Oscar Pearce, Trystan Gravelle, Caitlin Mottram, Paul Chahidi, Patrick Waldron, David Rogers, Jamie Ballard, Edward Clayton, Bettrys Jones, Alice Barclay, Peter Bankolé, Geoffrey Lumb, Chris McGill, Stewart W Fraser
Design: Stephen Brimson Lewis
Lighting: Tim Mitchell
Sound: Martin Slavin
Movement: Michael Ashcroft
Music; Paul Englishby
Running time: Three hours with one interval
Box Office: 0870 950 0940
Booking to 25th February 2006
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 7th February 2006 performance at the Novello Theatre, Aldwych, London WC2 (Tube: Covent Garden)
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