A Midsummer Night’s Dream – August 2008

10/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Gregory Doran

Venue: Courtyard Theatre

Date: Monday 18th August 2008

This may be based on the production Greg Doran did several years ago, but it seems so different now, and I suspect a lot of that is down to the brilliant stage that the Courtyard has become, as well as the extra experience Greg has mustered in the interim. The set has a mirror wall at the back, which reflects the action on stage wonderfully. I was aware a few times of seeing someone’s reflection, and I loved the images that conjured up. For instance, when Titania has her eyes anointed by Oberon, she’s spotlit, and there’s a lovely reflection of her in the distance. I saw this as showing the parallel universe idea – with the juice on her eyes, she’s about to enter another world where she’ll behave and experience life completely differently to normal. As that’s one of the themes of the play, it fitted in perfectly, and added to my enjoyment.

The rest of the set was magical as well. Light bulbs hung from the ceiling, and these  lit up to represent the fairy activity, as well as being lowered down to create a forest. There was a huge moon globe hanging back left, which was lit in lots of different ways, and apparently made a steady journey across to our right during the first half. It was so smoothly done that I just didn’t notice it at all, until it was already there. We found out later that they had hoped to bring it back during the second half, but the flying fairies got in the way.

The play itself started with Hippolyta and Theseus having a sword fight in Greek masks and armour – she wins – and they both seem very happy. Servants come on, and they change into modern gear before the group of contentious folk arrive. As the concerns of Egeus, Hermia, Demetrius, etc. are aired, Hippolyta is very unhappy to hear about how Athenian law regards women’s rights in marriage. She brushes Theseus away with a sweeping hand gesture or two, and storms off before his “Come my Hippolyta”.

Lysander’s gifts to Hermia are gone through in detail, ending up on the floor, along with the trinket box Hermia had been keeping them in. Lysander is casual, almost scruffy, Demetrius is prim and uptight. Hermia is a girly girl, well used to bossing men around – she snaps her fingers for Lysander to pick up her box of trinkets – but she has a temper, and they all know that when Helena calls her a dwarf, there’ll be trouble. Helena is a bit of a drip to begin with – specs and a baggy cardie – but maybe that’s the depression.

The mechanicals were very good. They brought on a burger stand and a portable tailor’s cubicle. Unlike Flute, the tailor is really keen to play a woman, and starts selecting cloth as soon as he gets the part. Bottom roars at some women in the audience, to demonstrate just how scary a lion can be, and really does scare them, but they get over it, just as he, eventually, gets over his sulk at not being allowed to play the lion.

Puck emerges from a pile of bin bags, with hairy legs – goat presumably – and hoof-like boots. He often stamps them for effect. The fairies use dolls, and the Indian boy is still a puppet. Titania and Oberon are really not getting on – he’s a bit fierce. Her speech which we heard earlier in the day, came across very clearly, and her arms were certainly moving. I reckoned Oberon is moved by Helena’s speech partly because it’s the kind of devotion he’d like from Titania. Puck has to stop Lysander waking up too soon, and falling for him!

For the first encounter with Hermia and Lysander, the fairies get involved, steal their luggage, and then bring back their clothes on hangers to cause some confusion. They react to what’s being said, agreeing with Helena that she’s ugly (how unkind, and untrue), and repeating some words while prompting some others. They wake up Hermia when Lysander’s gone, and they really rounded out these scenes, so much so that I found myself missing them later on when it was just Oberon and Puck.

Titania going to bed with her fairies singing their song was quite nice, but the silhouettes behind the mirror wall were excellent. We see the fairies she’s sent off to do various tasks, and then a big shadow looms up, and the fairies are scared. They run off, and this huge shadow of Oberon appears to lean over Titania and put the flower drug on her eyes. It’s wonderfully menacing.

The first half finishes with Bottom getting his new head – it’s a big one – and the others running off. Bottom’s attempts at singing were hilarious. He has to overcome a tendency to bray, then he starts dancing along with himself, and he’s trying his best to do all the moves – the DJ shuffle, etc. Titania wakes up, and she’s all over him in no time. The fairies seem to enjoy Bottom’s jokes – they laughed more than we did.

The second half starts with Snug being chased by the fairies, who steal his paper, and then Quince appears, trying to get away with his bike. The fairies pull that to pieces, and the bits chase him off the stage. Wall is also chased off by a paper man, flying through the air at him, and presumably made out of the paper stolen from Snug.

Oberon wants to know if Puck’s done his job, and Puck reports back on Titania’s new obsession. Oberon runs at him, and I wasn’t sure what he was going to do, but he’s really pleased with the result. Puck then tells him he’s sorted out the other matter, but unfortunately for him, the outcome of that blunder is about to turn up.

When the lovers turn up we get all the permutations; Will really goes for broke here with all sorts of declarations of passion and rejection. I would have liked more reaction during this scene from Puck – he tells us he loves this stuff, but he’s looking really miserable while he’s watching it. I noticed that Helena was wavering between enjoying the attention of the men and hating them for treating her so badly. At one point, Lysander and Demetrius slide across the floor to be near her while she chides Hermia for her behaviour, so different from their earlier friendship.

When it came to putting the lovers to sleep at front of stage, Puck had got fed up with how long Lysander kept chatting after he’d lain down, and was doing the hand chattering bit. The fairy porters nearly put Hermia in the wrong place. They’ve had to pick her up as she was too tired to make it on her own (mainly because they kept pulling her back), but Puck has to stop them, and as they reverse to get her in the right place, fairy Health and Safety kicks in and they do the beeping sound.

Then Oberon releases Titania from her enchantment, and here he emerges from behind the trolley that Bottom is sleeping in, which Puck wheels to the back of the stage when he takes the ass’s head off. Theseus and Hippolyta arrive, and when she tells her story of the Spartan hounds, he tries to butt in, but she keeps on. He finally gets a word in edgeways, and tries to show off with his boast that his hounds are bred of the Spartan kind. She’s not impressed. The lovers are really unsure of themselves when they wake up. Hermia isn’t sure if Lysander loves her again, while Helena is convinced it’s all been for nothing, and that Demetrius still doesn’t love her. Her realisation when he does declare his love for her was lovely to see, as was Hermia’s happiness at getting Lysander back.

Bottom recovers well, and takes a long time deciding on the title for his poem, for both parts. This speech got more laughs than usual. His gestures made it clear what he thought he had!

The other mechanicals are clearly depressed, and it’s not helped by Flute going on and on about how they would have got sixpence a day if they’d been able to do their play. Bottom turns up, and after failing to give them any information on his recent experiences, tells them to get ready to perform. Flute is too nervous to contain himself, hence the comment about clean linen.

The couples arrive, Theseus and Hippolyta first. There are more reactions from the youngsters this time to Philostrate’s descriptions of the potential offerings. Lysander in particular seemed keen to see the tipsy bacchanals, but despite Philostrate’s total dissing of Pyramus and Thisbe, Theseus goes for it.

The prologue was nervous, and then ‘truth’ arrives on stage to prepare the audience by telling them the whole story. As he names each one, the characters appear on stage, and as it’s only a small space, it soon gets crowded. Wall is taking up a fair bit of room, and Thisbe gets crushed against the post, still grinning. Lion can hardly find a way through. ‘Truth’ manages a respectable somersault during his stint. Various characters appear and head off again as this stage audience haven’t got the hang of shutting up!

Wall hasn’t got a convenient chink, so we’re treated to his nether regions, clad in red Y-fronts. Thisbe’s remarks about ‘I kiss your stones’ were directed at those items, while ‘I kiss the wall’s hole’ was similarly accurate.

Moonshine was treated badly by the on-stage audience, but we stuck up for him -‘ah’, we all said. The lion had memorised his lines remarkably well, for someone who had only a small strip of paper to study up to that point. (He showed it to Bottom earlier when the latter was devising a great long speech for him to say.)

Thisbe didn’t want to let go of her scarf, so it had to be passed through the curtain, and then changed for the red one, to show the blood. Pyramus’ death scene went on for ages, and was very funny. He even came back to life so he could stagger back to the stage. He’d been lured off it by Hippolyta’s expression of pity – probably developed a taste for posh bird – but he ended up back on stage. Thisbe’s death scene wasn’t as moving as some have done it – it was shaping up that way, despite Flute not even attempting a female voice, but the he/she put an emphasis on his eyes being a  green as leeks, and the laugh kept us away from the emotions. The other actors did peer around the curtains, and that got a laugh as well. Earlier, the whole stage had moved over when the Duke and gents got up to collect champagne, and Wall was a trifle exposed for a moment.

The final dance included the nobility, and then Puck enters through the curtains to start the fairy song. It was a great performance, and much enjoyed by everyone, to judge by the response. I’m looking forward to seeing it again, at least once.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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