Saturday 24th September

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Michael Grandage’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

| Theatre | 08/10/2013

Photograph by Johan Persson

The fourth in Michael Grandage’s series of plays at the Noel Coward Theatre is Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Generally considered to be Shakespeare’s funniest play (I would not contest this), A Midsummer Night’s Dream has everything: fairies, forests, love triangles, weddings, plays within the play and, oh yes, a sneaky death threat. Hermia loves Lysander and Lysander loves Hermia but Demetrius also loves Hermia and is her Father’s choice. Then there is Helena who loves Demetrius but nobody loves Helena. Confused yet? Throw in some meddling fairies and you’ve got yourself a corker of a play.

This production is, in a word, spectacular. Christopher Oram’s set and costume design transports the stage into a dark and wonderful fairyland. The presence of a giant full moon as the backdrop to the forest scenes had an almost hypnotising effect (on me at least) and really added to the mysticism and general confusion of the unfolding events. The overall sparsity of the stage in the forest scenes and the scenes in Athens was excellently planned to allow space for movement and to avoid distracting the audience with over-ambitious trees and foliage.

The whole production had a feeling of newness about it, the language was Shakespearean (for the most part) but the costumes and the period in which it is set were updated to excellent effect. And the fairies, oh those fairies. Think 60’s drug-fuelled, hippy raves and that’ll get you close to how they were portrayed. It was all naked torsos, back combed hair and coloured clothing. Sheridan Smith at the head of this tribe as Titania, queen of the fairies, was completely stunning. Smith can act. I truly bought the whole ‘in love with an ass’ thing which can, if done wrong, fall into farce but not here. Her Titania is sultry and seductive with coloured dreads, a feathered shawl and lots of bare thigh.

Smith doubled as Hippolyta who, for me, was a bit ‘blah’. Hippolyta is quiet and enigmatic yet witty and I do not think enough was made of her wittiness and stance as a powerful woman. Particularly in the opening scene when Hermia is threatened with death if she fails to comply with her Father’s orders. Some of that Titania-esque passion would have done nicely here. Although, to back track slightly, the performance does do well to demonstrate the female role.

Whilst Sheridan Smith stole the show for me, the most entertaining section involves the four young lovers quarrelling in the forest after the love potion has been wrongly distributed. Katherine Kingsley as a leggy and frantic Helena is brilliant. Her Reaction to the situation sets her apart from the weak Helena so often portrayed. She gives as good as she gets, essentially. Somehow the four manage to end up in various states of undress (arguably not a bad thing), leading to even more innuendo, mock violence and hilarity.

David Walliams’s Bottom, the other big name in this play, is representative of his general style of comedy. Bottom becomes a character who consists of elements of all Walliams’s previous work. But this is not to say I was disappointed. The comedy, excessive campness, and his way with puns and innuendo made for a thoroughly amusing and audience pleasing performance. Plus the gentle suggestion that Bottom and Peter Quince Are an item, whilst unnecessary, added further jollity to an already jolly play.

The play boils down to a celebration of sex, love and fertility (hence I’m guessing, the 60’s fairies). Titania and Oberon’s angry chemistry is contrasted with Helena’s desperate wish to be loved by Demetrius and by the passionately true love between Hermia and Lysander. Ultimately everyone ends up paired off and content (even, it is implied, Bottom). For hilarious belly laughs and some ‘aww’ moments, this play is definitely a winner in my book.

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