Writer: William Shakespeare
There’s not a gauze wing or giant flower or blazing sun in sight in Matthew Lenton’s vision of Shakespeare’sA Midsummer Night’s Dream. The follow up toWonderland,Lenton’s disturbing take on the sex industry which was acclaimed at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival and has on the surface little in common withDream, Lenton has mined deeper into Shakespeare’s light-hearted tale of four Athenian lovers’ entanglement with dysfunctional fairies in a forest where impoverished labourers turn a hand to play making.
Unseasonal weather is suitably topical this year and a blizzard in summer doesn’t seem amiss. Lenton’s own prologue defines Bottom’s integrity and humanity, and highlights class differences and preoccupations. Theseus and Hippolyta enjoy an oligarchic celebrity lifestyle with artificial sunshine, while the poor manage their personal affairs with dignity and suffering, stereotypical perhaps, but an antidote to the mad confusion and comedy to come.
Lenton’s Vanishing Point colleagues, Kai Fischer, Mark Melville and Becky Minto are a skilled creative team. Fischer’s minimalist, sweeping, mysterious wood and brooding red moon are a delight, and Melville’s score and sounds integrate eeriness and magic. More than anything Minto’s dress code reinforces the great class divide, shell suits and bright shiny parkas for the lovers straight out of HELLO! and Big Brother, while the poor pile on drab thin layers to keep out the cold. As for the fairy world, black clad Oberon and Puck and white swathed Titania and Co is quite sufficient to mark out their and evil or mischievous bent and other-worldliness.
Bottom (Jordan Young) is at the humane heart of the play, Young avoids buffoonery to make Bottom a man of good heart and substance, amazed but never overawed. Puck (Cath Whitefield) expressively capers and meddles but is not too malevolent a prankster as can be, and is a joy to watch as an engrossed voyeur with popcorn in hand. Helen (Roisin Gallagher) comes to life with substance, not just as a figure of fun but is visibly painfully wronged in the muddle up created by Puck’s mistake.
Doubling the Theseus /Oberon (Ifan Meredith) and Hippolyta/Titania (Flávia Gusmão) is not a new ploy but it works well here, although Meredith could make Oberon more sinister. Gusmão’s accent adds a suitably exotic and otherworldly note, but sometimes loses the rhythm of the words. The performance ofPyramus and Thisbeby some very familiar faces in the Lyceum’s team is as good as clowning gets, a riotous finish to the comedic action.
As a performance this is a memorable reading of the comedy, full of laughs, albeit at times rueful and thought provoking. Lenton’s new prologue and epilogue remind us that at bottom this is Bottom’s Dream, the dream of an ordinary man, a dream that matters ‘because it hath no bottom’. Highly recommended.