Royal Shakespeare Company
(Touring Production)
Venue: The Alhambra Theatre, Bradford
26th March 2002
3 / 5
Reviewed by: Alex Waddington
There aren't many Shakespeare plays one would choose to tackle with jetlag and only the odd hour's sleep in the previous two days.

But when the much-loved comedy 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' rolled into town for its opening night, this reviewer was determined to stay awake and witness the latest RSC interpretation - designed, rumour had it, to put a few luvie noses out of joint.

As the nuptial hour of Theseus (Peter Lindford), Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta (Priyanga Elan), Queen of the Amazons, 'draws on apace', Egeus (Steven Beard) brings his rebellious daughter Hermia (Gabrielle Jourdan) before the Duke.

In love with Lysander (Michael Colgan), she refuses to marry her suitor, Demetrius (Paul Chequer). Theseus orders her to obey her father, or else face execution or become a nun, as prescribed by Athenian law.

Lysander and Hermia decide to flee Athens, into a wood where fairies live. But Hermia's preferred suitor Demetrius pursues them, with the hysterical Helena (Nikki Amuka-Bird) - who is besotted with Demetrius - close behind.

With the course of true love not running too smoothly, Oberon (Tim McMullan), King of the Fairies, orders his mischievous sidekick Puck (Dominic Cooper) to dabble in a little magic. The Fairy King also decides to have some fun at the expensive of his Queen, Titania (Yolanda Vazquez), who he's been arguing with.

The consequences of this malicious meddling are both chaotic and amusing - or at least, that's the idea.

Set amid Spartan, black and white scenery, the performance initially chugged and spluttered. The opening scene was stiff and stilted, made worse by some clumsy entrances and exits that wouldn't have looked too out of place in am dram.

But proceedings did take a turn for the better with the appearance of Amuka-Bird as Helena, who injected some real feeling and expression into her part. Her verve ensured the audience remained rapt during Helena's long speeches, and her quick-fire exchanges with Hermia forced the pace of the play up a much-needed notch.

Alas this rhythm was soon disrupted, as a Titania tirade was drowned out by over-zealous sound effects, which were used frequently during the two and a half hour performance.  

As usual, the larger-than-life Bottom (Darrell D'Silva) - one of Shakespeare's few true comic characters - elicited the most chuckles from a packed house. But there was something very subtly sinister and warped in D'Silva's masterful portrayal that prevented you taking the usually loveable clown to your heart. Yes, good old Bully Bottom still provoked laughter, but with a cautious and nervous edge to it.

Sadly, in his enthusiasm to exploit the darker side of The Bard's lightest work, director Richard Jones seems to have destroyed a lot of Shakespeare's original comedy. The belly laughs the play is renowned for are suffocated by his morbid and dark spin.

Designed exclusively in black and white, the set has little in common with love and laughter. It crawls with giant flies, moving trees and insect noises. In this production, trees don't stay still - they move and taunt those who are lost, tired and afraid.

And forget any romantic notion of nice fairies you may have - Titania's band of followers are far removed from the sort you might find playing at the bottom of your garden. With blue hair and a uniform of all black, these anaemic Goths are truly the stuff of nightmares.

True, this is a well-acted, high-quality production, permeated with smart and original ideas. The way Puck and Oberon anoint eyes with magic flower juice is both comical and clever, while having Bottom and his fellow craftsmen travelling to work on a train works a treat. The superbly designed set, which flies in from all angle, also deserves high praise.

But ultimately, a comedy is a comedy, designed to make people laugh. Killing the mirth seems akin to changing the words, even though this production sticks religiously to the script.

'Awake the pert and nimble spirit of mirth' urges Theseus in the first few lines of the play. Sadly, this production prefers to leave it fast asleep in bed, having nightmares.

Copyright J A Waddington 2002. For syndication rights, please email.
Stuff to buy:

A Midsummer Night's Dream Text
Used by RSC

A Midsummer Night's Dream
York Notes Advanced

A Midsummer Night's Dream : For Kids
Lois Burdett

A Midsummer Night's Dream VHS [1999]
Directed by Michael Hoffman

A Midsummer Night's Dream DVD [1994]
Directed by: Adrian Noble (RSC Production)

A Midsummer Night's Dream VHS [1981]
Benjamin Britten's opera
Directed by: Peter Hall  

A Midsummer Night's Dream
Animated version
Directed by: Nikolai Serebrinkov

Britten - Midsummer Night's Dream CD [1990]

Britten - A Midsummer Night's Dream CD [1993]

Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night's Dream CD

Mendelssohn-A Midsummer Night's Dream CD [1986]
Incidental music
Conducted by Andrew Previn

A Midsummer Night's Dream: Original Soundtrack
[IMPORT] [1999]
Forthcoming Performances