A Midsummer Night's Dream

William Shakespeare
Royal Shakespeare Company
Novello Theatre
(2009)

Gregory Doran has pulled out all of the stops to fill three marvellous hours with novelty and imagination in this modern dress Dream. In all of this play's facets, the Greek nobility, rude mechanicals and fairy dreamworld, he surprises with visual and verbal virtuosity.

To start at the end, his Mechanicals are a rowdy bunch of Brummie shopfloor workers who deliver a masterclass in bad acting that is absolutely hilarious.

They are fronted by Joe Dixon gloriously playing Nick Bottom the larger than life Weaver, a tattooed Jack the Lad filled with ideas above his station. He has a perilous road to stardom, caught out by the evening's other star, Mark Hadfield. This expert comedian is an unlikely, un-Spritely Puck who lumbers around causing chaos through inefficiency.

Bottom gains a highly realistic ass's head and with it the love of fairy queen Titania (Riann Steele), who heads a team of really cool, heavily judgmental punk spirits. This affair is played out as a parallel to the on-off Greek relationships, involving an increasingly stormy quartet, that Puck also almost wrecks.

Demetrius, played by unexpected Hamlet star Edward Bennett, is unnecessarily formal, where his rival Tom Davey's handsome Lysander is a bit of a rude boy. Their companions also have little in common, with petite Hermia scarily feisty in the hands of Kathryn Drysdale and blonde Natalie Walter as Helena an ugly, tearful duckling threatening to become a swan, if only she can attract her uninterested sweet prince.

They have a lot of fun, especially when the women almost come to blows in a fine comic sequence before Puck, at the behest of his fickle boss, Oberon played by Peter de Jersey, switches the recreational drugs and brings about a happy ending.

Throughout, Doran and his designer, Francis O'Connor make the most of lunar imagery with moons big and small appearing at regular intervals. This complements a whole host of other attractive design flourishes, enjoyed at their dreamy best in the fairy sequences.

The designs embellish a production that starts with a dramatic gladiatorial duel with a difference and never looks back. The peak, literally, is reached with Titania's beautiful aerial ballet of release, following her period in thrall to a friendly ass.

As so often with the RSC, the verse speaking is a model of clarity, which is particularly pleasing in a play that relies so much on poetry for its romantic effect.

All in all, Greg Doran gives us a Dream to remember. Some may feel that they are doing so as some of the underlying themes have been seen before in his earlier production played at the same theatre in 2006, which proved so popular and is now possibly even better.

Steve Orme reviewed this production in Stratford in 2008

Reviewer: Philip Fisher