A Midsummer Night's Dream - Albery Theatre 2001

Tuesday, 27 March, 2001
Review by: 
Darren Dalglish

This new production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a straight take on Shakespeare’s romantic comedy and retains all of the original text. It boasts a sensational performance by Dawn French as ‘Bottom’, which will delight many.

The play is set in a manor in the English countryside during the 1940s. As a result of World War II, the manor has been requisitioned, with one wing of the house now occupied by the exiled court of Theseus, and the other by a group of local ladies from the Woman's Institute fulfilling the roles of the Mechanicals. When an enemy bomb destroys the house, the occupants are transported to a magical forest, ruled by Titania and Oberon. Here, thanks to the interference of the mischievous Puck, four lovers’ romantic entanglements become hopelessly confused.

Director, Matthew Francis, keeps the action going at a brisk pace and brings out the best in the company. Comedienne Dawn French dominates the show with her fantastic facial expressions and the great use of her large body!! Every time she came on stage she brought laughter to the audience. Her impression of an ass is delightfully funny. Lee Ingleby makes a fine ‘Puck’. His cheeky smile and tone of voice is a joy. Michael Siberry also makes a fine ‘Oberon’. He must also be strong because ‘Puck’ is climbing all over him most of the time! There are many fine performances in this entertaining and solid production that many will find entertaining.

The farcical play put on for the entertainment of the court of Thesus by the ladies of the Womans Institute is a wonderful send up. Dawn French’s death of Pyramus is hysterical. First she frantically searches for a point of entry through her body armour so as to be able to stab her self as she is crying out “Thus die I, thus, thus, thus”, and then as her head gradually disappears within her armour she slowly sinks to her knees crying “Now die, die, die, die, die”. This performance is Classic Dawn French, and could only be executed by her.

The show has a wonderful design by Lez Brotherston that blossoms when the manor is blown up to reveal the magical garden. The set has mirrors on the ceiling and walls to create the illusion that the forest is bigger than it actually is and thus creates a wonderful atmosphere.

The show has received good reviews from most of the popular press…” CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, “ French is fine and the production is even better.” He goes on to say, “The show is both infectiously funny and genuinely magical.” SHERIDAN MORLEY for TELEXTEXT says, "This is a highly intelligent revamp in which Shakespeare's text is never betrayed." PETER HEPPLE for THE STAGE says, "Dawn French - forget the jokes - is a hugely successful Bottom..." PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says it is an “ enjoyable staging” and goes on to say Dawn French is hilarious. SUSANNAH CLAPP for THE GUARDIAN says, “Having Dawn French - playing well, yes, Bottom - proves to be a perfectly good wheeze.” JANE EDWARDES for TIME OUT says, “Having the mechanicals played by women offers a freshness and an opportunity for new jokes.” BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, She[Dawn French] proceeds to give a funnier, jollier performance than many of the male actors I’ve seen in the role.” NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD did not think much of this new production saying, “This is a Dream which tries to cast a new spell and misses.” He also says of Dawn French, “This hyper-comic actress's performance is, sadly, all bounce and little substance."

Lasting 2 hours 45 minutes, this is a delightful and funny production that many will find pleasing.


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