Thursday, 23 February 2017

Review A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream
by William Shakespeare

The Muddy Space

We have to admit we couldn't resist the rather pretentious theatrical pun as our strapline referring to Peter Brook's seminal book on theatre practice The Empty Space.

Chiefly because the Pelican version TLT possessed back in the day as an eager-beaver sixth former had the Midsummer Night's Dream lovers all in pristine condition without - er - mud.

Yes, director Joe Hill-Gibbins's version (he of the sex doll Measure For Measure)  is set on a muddy post-war battlefield. Or maybe it's a mud wrestling ring. Or then again a churned up building site. This is A Midsummer Night's Dream without a sign of a green shoot but with a huge rehearsal room mirror cleaving to the back wall, reflecting the actors, the action, the audience - and the mud.

So if you're squeamish about the brown stuff splattering dazzling white trousers or pastel-coloured dresses, this may not be the show for you. Otherwise it's certainly a quirky builders' midsummer night's dream with set and some nifty lighting from Johannes Schütz.

Theseus and Oberon (Michael Gould doubling up)  have thinning hair and are both bare-chested showing pale white flesh, one with silk dressing gown, one without. There's even a glimpse of a builders' bum with a skinny Nick Bottom (Leo Bill) who seems to have drawn inspiration from another comedy menial,  Peggy-from-Hi-de-Hi-turned male. Go see and you'll understand what we mean!.

Conquered concubine Hippolyta (Anastasia Hille), a smart City slicker in black trouser suit with red handkerchief in breast pocket, is understandably a tad miffed when handed a pair of stilletos to wear in the mud.  Although she does understand she has to endure this peculiar sinking humiliation to keep in with her prospective husband.

Theseus, Duke of Athens, has won Hippolyta in battle and brought her back home to marry her. The city's artisans club together to put on a show as part of the marriage celebrations. But before these go ahead, the Duke has to enforce a father's absolute authority over his daughter.

He orders feisty Hermia (Jemima Rooper) to marry the man of her father Egeus's (Lloyd Hutchinson) choosing, Demetrius (Oliver Alvin-Wilson), rather than her own true love Lysander. Even if Demetrius has dallied with Hermia's hoodie childhood friend Helena (Anna Madeley) who continues to live in hope of winning his love.

But perhaps it's all a reflection of what's also gone haywire in Faery Land, for the world of mortals reflects the supernatural realm which, invisible, inhabits the self-same clods of earth.

This realm's rulers, Oberon and Titania (Anastasia Hille again, blonde locks shaken down and in a flimsier black skirt),  are at odds and the King determines to punish his spouse. For this he uses the offices of  Puck (Lloyd Hutchinson doubling up this time), more chunky builder's labourer in a nylon wig  than spritely elf.  Add to this a splattering of mud, of course ... and plenty of miscommunication and mixed love potions and let the fun commence!

We know things are going wrong as the mirror gets grimy from handprints, after palms have been pressed in frustration on the glass. And the supernatural and human world become more and more intertwined until it may become impossible to put the wall - or mirror - between them. And of course one fears for those white trousers hitting the floor ...  Still, Peter Quince (Matthew Steer), chief artisan and overly cautious impressario, wisely has wellies  and a backpack - maybe with a change of clothing?.

In the midst of all that mud and two hours without an interval, the verse speaking is pretty good - the story and the meaning of the lines come over well. It becomes a moot point whether we are seeing the humans' or the fairies' dream. But we can't help thinking the sheer magic of the piece is beaten down and pummelled out of existence into the mud.

Our usual test is if a newcomer to the play came to the production, would s/he understand and feel thoroughly stimulated. This feels like a production for those who already know the text - having said this, that group may include plenty of schoolkids including eager beaver sixth formers who might  warm to this mash-mud.. 

But, perhaps strangely, once the production had settled on the mud as its central statement, it somehow didn't seem muddy enough - or at least needing a shower of  mud, mud, glorious mud denouement.

Still, the eternally white sheet used for the rough theatrical performance of Pyramus and Thisbe will  gladden the hearts of those with a phobia of mud stains.

This A Midsummer Night's Dream doesn't have the same verve and wit as Measure For  Measure. However it does possess a certain sweet and sour energy deserving of an upper range amber light as mortals and fairies slug it out and then find their uncaring breach of the boundaries has left their two worlds indelibly confused.

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