Saturday, August 06, 2011

'A Midsummer Night's Dream' by William Shakespeare

6 August 2011

On Friday we were back in Stratford-upon-Avon to see Nancy Meckler's new RSC production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Meckler had set the play in a modern-day Athens with the gentlemen dressed in black suits and ties like a Greek Reservoir Dogs and the rude mechanicals actually wearing blue mechanic's overalls. I liked that, when Lysander and Hermia meet in the woods to elope, he arrives with just the clothes he stands up in but Hermia has the presence of mind to bring a sleeping bag, thermos flask and toothbrush! It was a very funny show, with the final performance of 'Pyramus and Thisbe' milked for every drop of humour but still leaving me wanting more. And it was great to see some serious comic dancing that could have come directly from a Hal Hartley film. But the humour of Peter Quince's players was surpassed by the lovers in a pillow-fight scene that was truly hilarious. All four of the lovers were excellent but the show was stolen by Lucy Briggs-Owen as Helena with her brilliant mixture of hysterical despair, falsetto disbelief and manic movement. She even outdid Marc Wootton who was fantastic as Bottom. And the fact that both Lucy Briggs-Owen and Marc Wootton are in their debut seasons with the RSC emphasises the company's ability to spot and nurture wonderful acting talent. 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' was a good example of the RSC's ensemble approach, with no real star names on the bill but a universally impressive cast. And while it made good use of the facilities of the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre, especially the massive pit beneath the stage, unlike the first two productions designed for the new auditorium (Macbeth, reviewed here in April 2011 and The Merchant of Venice, reviewed here in June 2011) it didn't appear to be so blatantly trying to show off the new theatre. The funniest Shakespeare I have seen for many years.

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