July 25, 2006

A Midsummer Night's Dream @ The Swan Theatre

JUNE 13TH 2006 (backdated)

You know when I said a few days ago that I was trying to avoid using superlatives? Well, forget that.

This was the BEST BEST BEST thing I’ve EVER seen on stage!

Firstly, it was by no means difficult to follow. Some characters never spoke a word of English, but the actors were so clear in what they were doing that I don’t think people even noticed the switches in language.

I don’t know where to start. Probably with the fairies, who at the start of the third scene burst through a white wall that rose the height of the auditorium, spiralling and swinging down on ropes, drapes and bars. This production truly took place in three dimensions, as the back of the stage was revealed to be an enormous climbing frame. Tussles that started on the level stage would often end up going up and down the framework, creating an entire vertical playing space that the superlatively acrobatic cast used to full advantage. Even the young Indian Boy was a dab hand climbing drapes and walking on his hands.

The actors suspended themselves at all levels using large red ribbons that fell from the ceiling.

Elsewhere, Joy Fernandes as Bottom dominated the stage, making particularly interesting use of an enormous phallus as part of his donkey costume….. Ajay Kumar was a mischievous and almost naked Puck, and Demetrius was slightly creepy in his forceful way of wooing and taunting Helena.

Pyramus and Thisbe was well done, and very funny, but came alive as Bottom said, “Now am I dead, now am I fled”: the lights came down and a single spot shone on Bottom as he reached to the heavens- this was the transcendental moment that Tim Supple had mentioned the day before, the place where Titania’s promise that she would make him as one of the spirits was fulfilled.

The final scene, I’m not ashamed to admit, made me cry. As the fairies came in to bless the house, slowly all the cast emerged and started moving in a slow dance with torches around the stage, speaking their lines as beautiful poetry and moving in a way that seemed genuinely magical. I can’t really describe it, but it was deeply moving in a way I haven’t seen very often on the stage.

Dancing was a big part of the production, particularly a wild fairy dance to celebrate Titania and Oberon’s reunion, and a frenetic finale dance after the curtain calls where the musicians joined the cast onstage for a final knees-up that had the entire audience clapping along.

This was theatre at its most inventive and full-on, with audience members in the front row having to brush paper scenery off themselves. An hysterical scene where the lovers stumbled across stage after each other while Puck wound reels of tape around and turned the entire area into a maze of barriers was just one of the highlights of a ‘Dream’ that revelled in physicality and pure, unadulterated fun. It’s a play that can become over-familiar simply because of the sheer volume of productions, but Tim Supple and Dash Arts proved that it can still be a vital and ecstatic piece of theatre.

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Peter Kirwan is Teaching Associate in Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama at the University of Nottingham and a reviewer of Shakespearean theatre for several academic journals.

The Bardathon is his experimental review blog, covering productions of (or based on) all early modern plays. The aim is to combine immediate reactions with the detail and analysis of the academic review.

Theatre criticism always needs more voices. Please comment with your own views and contributions!

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