Joe Hill-Gibbins has taken A Midsummer Night’s Dream away from the magical, whimsical enchantment and slapped it onto a ‘dank and dirty’ muddy ground; Glasto style. But throughout this condensed re-imagining, I feel this production gets a little muddy along the way, and I found myself missing a bit of frill and foliage.
In his Measure for Measure, we saw actors wade through a sea of inflatable sex dolls and here the filth is a bit more literal. After 2 hours of trudging and squelching through Johannes Schütz mud-caked set, I spared a thought for the poor wardrobe department who are left with a pretty dirty mess by the end.
Hill-Gibbins has certainly created a nightmarish dream, where the play’s murky darkness rises to the surface. The comedy is in short supply, and romance makes way for sexual desire and jealous revenge. There’s an uncomfortable moment when Lysander (John Dagleish) grapples with Hermia (Jemima Rooper) for sex as she tries to resist. Lovers escaping into the woods suddenly turns into something a bit forceful.
There’s a threatening undertone throughout with Michael Gould’s raging Oberon and even Lloyd Hutchinson’s bewigged Puck is more aggressive bully than mischievous sprite, as he violently administers the potion to a sleeping Lysander.
However, the comedy isn’t all lost in this much-loved classic. The mud provides a surface for some spectacular face-planting from Jemima Rooper (although the joke is a little overdone) and of course, Leo Bill’s geeky ‘Rock God’ Bottom is superb. There is also a strong performance from Anastasia Hille as Hippolyta, who’s even more wonderful as Titania. Hille and Bill’s double act as the duped lovers is a definite highlight.
Essentially Hill-Gibbins production feels like that 3am point at the party, when the fun has descended into drunken chaos. The boys are squabbling outside throwing half-arsed punches, and Nerdy Tim’s drunk on his second beer, giving his best karaoke rendition of Aerosmith. The next morning it’s that fuzzy head feeling, recalling some funny bits but overall feeling a bit weary ‘are you sure that we are awake?’
(Photo courtesy of Tristram Kenton)