A Midsummer Night's Dream

William Shakespeare
RSC at the Barbican

A Midsummer Night's Dream is currently one of the most regularly produced of Shakespeare's plays. As a result, it seems to be incumbent upon directors to try and come up with novel ways of staging it. In this particular production, Richard Jones has decided to give the play a silent movie feel.

Giles Cadle's design tends to reduce the stage area and is completely bleached of colour. The characters are dressed in various combinations of black, white and grey and almost all surfaces are either black or white or combination of the two. This often looks really effective and one particular image which is used regularly is that of a spotlight which picks out an individual actor or a pair of actors to great effect.

Shakespeare's play is then dropped into this rather overpowering theme. The Athenian scenes at the beginning and end of the play contain much passion and movement but lose any feel for time and place. The scenes involving the amateur actors are set on a train and are reminiscent of a cross between The Three Stooges and The Keystone Cops. This gives Darrell D'Silva, complete with a Lancashire accent, the chance to have a lot of fun as Bottom, especially during his deconstruction of Pyramus and Thisbe and his love scenes as an ass.

The troupe of fairies is another amazing invention. Oberon and Titania are that excellent combination, the Gothic punks. It is as if Punk stars Nick Cave and Siouxie Sioux had been dropped into a Shakespearean idyll. The accident ridden Puck, Dominic Cooper, looks like a muddied guttersnipe and the remaining fairies all have blue rinses.

While all of this looks spectacular, it doesn't do a great deal for Shakespeare's poetry. The one area in which Richard Jones does create something special is that of the four struggling lovers. They get involved in filmic farce sprinting energetically around and seeming to be in two places at once.

The comedy and the passion of the drugged love scenes work well and, in particular, a kind of treadmill on which they wear themselves down to exhaustion superbly expresses their drugged state. It is these actors that are given a chance to shine and, in particular, Michael Colgan as Lysander and Nikki Amuka-Bird as Helena give performances both humorous and passionate.

In summary, while there are some good ideas, this production of A Midsummer Night's Dream does not seem to add a great deal to an understanding of a play that has been produced so much of late. There is too much of the director and too little of the actors and the Bard.

Dream runs until 11th May

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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