The Royal Shakespeare Company continues its residency at the Novello theatre with the bard’s mischievous and magical comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Mixing the surreal with the beautiful, the production leads the audience into an Athenian forest, where daring to fall asleep may alter your perceptions beyond imagination.
Lovers Hermia and Lysander are forced to flee into the forest in order that Hermia may escape her impending marriage to her father’s suitor of choice, Demitrius. Helena, desperately in love with the straight-laced Demitrius, tips him off to the eloping couple’s plans and the pair follow the runaways into the forest, unaware of the magic that lies within. When Oberon, King of the fairies, sees the injustice of Helena’s unrequited love, he orders his servant Puck to squeeze the juice of a magical plant onto the eyes of Demetrius so that he will return her affections. But the course of true love never did run smooth and the four friends find themselves in the midst of a comedy of romantic errors when Oberon’s plan goes awry.
Meanwhile, a group of Athenian tradesmen, looking like an out-of-shape version of the Village People, enters the forest to rehearse a play which will be performed at the forthcoming marriage of the Duke of Athens and the Queen of the Amazons. They also fall prey to the powers at be in the enchanted forest, with the over zealous Bottom learning exactly what it means to make an ass out of yourself.
The four lovers beautifully convey the mystery of romance in a way that is still as relevant today as in Shakespeare’s times. The delightfully spoilt and fiery Hermia (Kathryn Drysdale) teases Lysander (Tom Davey) with a false virtue and push-up bra, until you wonder what it is he sees in her. His bohemian get-up and laid back attitude is in direct contrast to the hilariously dead-pan, conservative Demetrius, played by Edward Bennett fresh from his high-profile understudy role in Hamlet. Helena (Natalie Walter), intelligent and dressed like a librarian, is desperate to be viewed like the more obviously beautiful Hermia. While they try to make sense of the insanity that unravels between them, Titania, Queen of the fairies, and her clan of gothic, punk subjects – dressed in fishnets and black netted skirts – only make the situation worse, mocking the lovers and revelling in their stupidity, much to the amusement of the audience.
A mirrored stage with a vast glass orb representing the ever-present full moon provides the setting for this tale of misplaced affections and meddling fairies. With dozens of light bulbs creating starlight above the characters, the staging creates a magical and romantic atmosphere which is further emphasised by Oberon and Titania’s sparkling, dramatic costumes.
The production, as dream-like and surreal as the bard intended, is a perfect introduction to Shakespeare for children and adults alike. The actors play out the amusing scenes so physically they are often crawling across the stage or flinging themselves into the air with desperation and lust.
With romance and hilarity evident in each scene, the conclusion sees everything returned to its rightful place and, as the mystery of the forest is left far behind, the audience is begrudgingly forced out of the dream and back to reality.