Archive for May, 2008

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

May 26, 2008

            With the Royal Shakespeare Theatre still under construction, and having said a sad farewell to Michael Boyd’s ‘Histories’ cycle, audiences waited with trepidation for the next season from the Royal Shakespeare Company to open in the Courtyard Theatre. Presenting what one could call a ‘safe’ collection of five plays, the crowning jewel being the forthcoming ‘Hamlet’ starring Patrick Stewart and David Tenant, the other plays were promised to sparkle just as brightly. But after a disappointing ‘Taming of the Shrew’, and the visionless offering that was the ‘Merchant of Venice’, I was looking forward to what has been my favourite Shakespeare since I was a child.

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that not much can go wrong with ‘Dream’. It is a simple story of tangled love, fairies and what I consider to be one of the best fools in literature, because for any of us who go to the theatre or have been in a school play knows that there is a little bit of Bottom in all of us.

            But in spite of the praises that this production has been given, I must admit that I was less than impressed. The directorial vision was incomplete and entirely incongruous. Gregory Doran’s choice to reference modern pop music acts such as Michael Jackson and Sting may be good for getting a cheap laugh but made the production seem fragmented. Why does Sting have a place amongst lover’s feuds and fairies? No answer was given.

Most of the complaints about this production also come from Doran’s directorial choices concerning his lead actors. Peter de Jersey’s Oberon was as wooden as the forest he lives in and his fairy train was littered with over acting. Joe Dixon’s Bottom may have been the bumbling mechanical that many love, but Doran’s choice to take the character out the context of the play with these dance moves (the first of many examples) made for a sporadic and confusing performance.

            In spite of its problems, people were enjoying the show and there did not seem to be a dull moment for some. The most positive aspects were the overall design elements, with lavish lunar projections, light bulbs and descending Perspex bowers, keeping the audience visually stimulated. Praise also goes to some of the cast. Putting Doran’s perplexing vision to the side, Edward Bennett, as Demetrius, and Natalie Walter, as Helena, really stood out of the crowd as one pair of mismatched lovers. Bennett’s insular persona led to a convincing portrayal of a man fighting between his feelings and Egeus’ preferences, while Walter’s shone using her full range that went above and beyond the two dimensional performances of the other leads. Praise also goes to Mark Hadfield who gave the audience an enjoyably inept and slovenly Puck.

            This offering from RSC continues to hang the old question mark over the nature of Shakespeare an its performance in modern theatre. With an entire complex dedicated to recreating England’s most important literary tradition, as well as funding from arts councils and patrons, what do audience’s want from the Bard’s work in the 21st century? Plays like Boyd’s ‘Histories’ were gripping and frankly unmissable as pieces of theatre, not just Shakespeare, with genuine thought being put into every scene and device. The Histories are difficult plays to conceive on stage. Even the tried and tested Henry V needs a serious amount of work every time it is reconceived.

In comparison, I felt that Doran’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ rode the wave of the text, often relying on the simple yet solid script which carried some of the directors’ more bizarre choices. These came in the form of modern contextual references (the reason for the fairies reversing making articulated lorry noises, or repeating the word bosom are lost on me) and hyperbolical performances, all of which point towards the shows’ aim to please a mass audience. That seems to be what the audience want and it is not ultimately a bad thing. It brings people together to watch text that can be difficult to comprehend but here it has been done at the sake of artistic integrity. The RSC have a reputation to keep up, but the season thus far continues to be a thorn in their side. Let us hope ‘Hamlet’ is not all bark and no bite. 



May 25, 2008

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