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Wednesday, 26 August 2009

A Little Black Magic on A Midsummer Night

A Midsummer Night's Dream
By William Shakespeare
Directed by David Grindley
Featuring Laura Condlln, Bruce Godfree, Dion Johnstone, Ian Lake, Yanna McIntosh, Tom Rooney, Geraint Wyn Davies

One of the reasons this play is so often performed is because it is funny, easy to follow (despite its complicated love tangles), and its poetry about the nature of love can appeal to audiences of any age. That might not be the case with this version of Dream; reactions are likely to be very polarized, depending upon to which generation one belongs.

This is because director David Grindley and designer Jonathan Fensom has taken the fairies out of their conventional pastel-coloured butterfly wings and put them in black leather, torn fishnet, tribal tattoos, Goth makeup and messy, punk hair. In fact, he has set them squarely on the fringe of society, where, let’s face it, fairies have always existed. These fairies are the kind that cause mischief, leave changelings in place of babies, inhabit the night and live by their own laws and codes – as fairies did in Celtic lore (as Shakespeare knew it) before they were co-opted by Disney. To most people, they will look as exotic as the customary tiny creatures with pointy ears, but in an entirely darker way.

The stage lighting (designed by Michael Walton) is quite dark – it might be too dark for most sections of the audience to appreciate the great costumes and makeup. For instance, Oberon’s right bicep has a tattoo that winks at Stratford, but this could be missed by anyone not sitting front and centre. (And just so you know, Oberon’s look was set by a designer last summer, so any resemblance to a young Michael Jackson really is accidental).

What is great about this production is that even though it looks so vastly different from any other version, the text of the play supports this interpretation – not like setting a play in “Scotfrica”. Even the gunfire at the start fits - it represents Hippolyta’s capture, although it is not really necessary (and altogether too loud).

Sophia Walker is a gleeful Hermia, Ian Lake and Bruce Godfree’s (left, top) Demetrius and Lysander are both comical, especially when under the influence, so to speak, but Laura Condlln (left) ups the ante with a hilarious, intelligent, and sympathetic Helena. With great timing and command of the text’s rhythm, Ms. Condlln is also adept at physical comedy, which makes her Helena one to remember.

Despite looking like a mod version of Alice Cooper, Tom Rooney’s (right) Puck exhibits the correct amount of naughtiness; there is a not only a great deal of fun but also a slick slyness to him that allows you to question just how loyal he is to Oberon – this Puck is a rock god who enjoys the spotlight in his own right.

As Titania and Oberon, Yanna McIntosh and Dion Johnstone (top photo) both have the necessary posture and chemistry to carry their duel, and both delicately reveal the soft centres beneath the tougher licorice coating of their characters – their reconciliation is sexy and magical.

Geraint Wyn Davies (left) shows again how deft an actor he is by creating a sweet, innocent Bottom who could in fact charm the fairies from their trees – if he didn’t have a curious resemblance to a donkey under Puck’s spell. His physical transformation is brilliant, one that may have other designers kicking themselves for not having thought of it first.

Other genius bits of staging: the balcony that warps and bends, creating the “dark mirror-world” of the fairies, who gracefully treat it like a piece of furniture, while the gangly humans grasp and trip as they scramble over and around it. (Thank the scenic carpentry crew for that bit of stage magic.) Also, although the play takes place in a matter of days, all four seasons are experienced: as Oberon and Titania’s feud escalates, we see autumn and winter, and as things start to get sorted out we see signs of spring and finally summer, when all the lovers are reunited. It is very subtly done, but like the music that starts electric and becomes infused with something more organic, it represents a gradual harmonizing of all the characters. Lastly, the production has the best curtain-call. Ever.

This is one thoroughly original, unforgettable Dream, and it continues in repertory both night and day at the Festival Theatre until October 30th.

1 comment:

  1. I saw this on Wednesday and was amazed.

    It's one of my favourite plays and i've seen several different productions and this was probably the best, certainly the most astonishing. Tom Rooney was particularly brilliant. Talk about command! He had the audience in the palm of his hand.


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