A Midsummer Night's Dream - Comedy Theatre 2003

Edward Hall’s production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is one of laughter and enchantment. The all-male company ‘Propeller’ bring a fresh vitality to the play. They may fail to capture the lamentable discord of Hermia when she is threatened with execution if she marries Lysander against her father’s wishes or Helena’s distress at being rejected by Demetrius, but they create a chaotic discord of comic confusing that has you transfixed.

The dreamlike world created by Michael Pavelka’s set design contrasts the world of mortals and spirits. Empty white chairs are suspended around the stage creating a perception of a multi-layered universe, in which fairies scrutinize the actions of mortals and intervene for good or ill. Titania and Oberon are seated on high thrones, veiled from view until they choose to intervene, instantly telling you that it is they who ultimately govern the proceedings.

An all-male cast, as of course it would have been in Shakespeare’s day, adds a witty charm between the exchanges of the four human lovers, Hermia and Lysander, and Demetrius and Helena. Watching Helena (Robert Hands) attempting to appear feminine whilst berating her bewitched suitors is hilarious and almost worth the ticket price alone.

The mechanicals, that hopeless group of losers who perform a play as entertainment for Theseus’ wedding, bring a marvellous element of farce to the proceedings. It is utterly delightful when Snug (Jonathan McGuiness) apologises to the ladies for his ferocious appearance as a lion, whilst wearing a mane that makes him look like a shy wilting sunflower. Flute (Jules Werner) throws himself into the role of Thisbe looking like a demented badly dressed transvestite. Whilst Starveling (Simon Scardifield, who also plays Puck) is a temperamental shy luvvy who throws a tantrum bringing yet further havoc to the proceedings. Bottom, played by Tony Bell, is an unsatisfactory Ass, failing to capture the bewilderment in his transformation, but makes up for this failing when he expertly hams the part of Pyramus, as only a professional actor can!

The disappointment is the fairies. With the exception of Puck, who has a boyish cheeky grin and a mimicry pout, they seem rather flat and whilst they grin inanely they lack any sense of mischief. Oberon and Titania are stark in comparison to the mechanicals and members of the court. More flamboyancy would not have gone a miss - after all, it is a man dressed as a woman playing a fairy queen in love with a Donkey! Although, when Titania falls down on her knees admiring Bottom’s extended manhood (or should that be donkeyhood), with mouth wide open in astonishment, it is hilariously suggestive.

A magical Midsummer Night’s Dream from which one could happily not awaken.

Alan Bird

Photos by Manuel Harlan

RACHEL HALLIBURTON for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Infectious boys serve up a dream." Elisabeth Mahoney for THE GUARDIAN says, "Totally compelling." ADAM SCOTT for THE INDEPENDENT says, "It is spoken throughout with fabulous speed and clarity, and wonderfully performed." ROBERT SHORE for TIME OUT says, "Zestful imaginative production." JOHN THAXTER for THE STAGE says the production "Places the emphasis on the spoken word and a direct relationship with the audience."

External links to full reviews from popular press

The Guardian
The Independent
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