Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Laurence Boswell
Reviewer: Claire Hayes
Blue-daubed fairies prance and writhe, furious lovers claw and fight under a huge forest moon as one of Shakespeare’s best-loved comedies – the one so many of us cut our teeth on at school – is given a captivatingly contemporary and imaginative treatment in this new production from the Theatre Royal Bath.
Directed by Laurence Boswell, better known for showcasing international plays to great acclaim in next door’s Ustinov Studio, his A Midsummer Night’s Dream creates a magical kingdom at once both familiar and new: physical, visceral, sensual, funny and above all endlessly entertaining.
This romantically interwoven play can become messy and confusing if the elements don’t gel; the unevenly matched lovers, quarrelsome fairies and ragtag rude mechanicals putting on a play to celebrate a wedding in the Athenian court. Here bold, intelligent vision combines with minimalist staging from designer Jamie Vartan to create a cohesive whole.
In pre-publicity, there has been much talk of Phill Jupitus’ Bottom; he acquits himself well in his Shakespearean debut, delivering prose with relish in his larger-than-life characterisation of the domineering weaver. His transformation into an ass at the hands of Simon Gregor’s astonishingly nimble and menacingly exuberant Puck is perhaps less strikingly characterised than some, but he and his band of amateur players exploit all the comedic potential of their roles. Their performance of the play-within-a-play at the end is the farcical highlight it should be; Oscar Batterham as Frances Flute is a hilariously over-the-top Thisbe and Ekow Quartey charms as Snug’s hopelessly ineffectual lion.
The lovers are an explosively well-matched quartet; Maya Wasowicz and Eve Ponsonby as Helena and Hermia bicker and spar as only old friends can, bewildered by the inconstancy of their spellbound suitors, Lysander and Demetrius, played by William Postlethwaite and Wilf Scolding. Together, they bring such energetic physicality to Shakespeare’s central premise that to fall in love is to fall out of control – punching, clinging and tearing away garments – that it’s almost a disappointment when their plight’s neat resolution is brought about.
Katy Stephens, commanding, haughty and beautifully moderated as Titania, is all the more convincing in her metamorphosis into Bottom’s silkily seductive admirer, while Darrell D’Silva’s lowering and quixotic Oberon is always master of the ultimately benign games he plays with the lives of mere mortals.
Jon Nicholls’ echoing sound design and contemporary composition, together with Colin Grenfell’s lighting, brings layers of atmospheric complexity to the set’s clean lines and hidden doorways. With this production’s all-out theatricality, Boswell has conjured up a parallel universe of unique and accessible enchantment; no matter how well you might already know the play, it’s an unexpectedly refreshing and vibrant place to visit.
Runs until 20 August 2016 | Image: