Tuesday, November 01, 2011

"We'll crack on then" - Theatre Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream - RST Stratford Upon Avon Saturday 29 October 2011

Feeling much better - though frankly I couldn't have gone had not felt better than the Friday night - we headed into this production of Dream with high hopes for both much needed laughter and magic.

It did not disappoint.

The production used the now common Peter Brook's technique of 'doubling' characters between the scenes in Athens and the fairy world. Theseus becomes Oberon; Hippolyta becomes Titania; Philostrate becomes Puck (aka Robin Goodfellow).

The last - indeed only stage version - that Neil and I had seen of Dream was way back in 1992 when we saw The Pocket Dream: a prodution by The Comedy Store players (led by Sandi Toksvig, Michael McShane, Meil Mularkey et al). It was a fine and hilarious production putting play within play within play and marvellously sending up overly serious actor groups.

This more than lived up to the recommendations I had heard.

What was especially interesting to note was how well several key players from Marat/Sade performed:

  • Amanda Wilkin (Kokol in M/S) was a brilliant understudy for Lucy Briggs-Own as Helena, and although LB-O has garnered some storming reviews I really feel that Wilkin adeptly filled in and was deservedly well-applauded by both audience and cast.
  • Imogen Doel (Charlotte Corday in M/S) made for a truly terrifying fairy - she and Maya Barcot had to make up for lost fairies with the promotion of Wilkin to the role of Helena, but it was scarcely noticeable. The hissing malevolence of Doel's fairy incarnation made the fairy world a much less comforting place than some productions make it. She was excellent.
  • Arsher Ali (Marat in M/S) was for me a joy: he's clearly a talent to continue to watch and was a delightful Puck/Philostrate. The balance of Puck to the other characters can sometimes be a problem in certain Dream productions; whilst Ali didn't steal the show he did (quite rightly) have a great charisma, all gangly limbs and wry smile. This was especially well done as Philostrate near the end when (in 'best man' guise) his rapport with the audience provided a chuckleworthy "we'll crack on then" as we tried hard not to totally lose the plot. Puck's outfit was awesome as well - flailing ties of colour over his gold long coat. A delicious pleasure.
But there were other highlights as well: Pippa Nixon and Jo Stone-Fewings made for a wonderful Theseus and Hippolyta / Oberon and Titania. Scarcely has the Queen of the Amazons seemed so clearly disgruntled at being 'forced' into marriage with the conqueror Theseus; yet their transformation into a loving couple, through their dream alter-egos as Oberon and Titania, is a joy to watch. The scene where the King and Queen of fairyland 'undress'/'redress' each other to into the soon to be new Queen and King of Athens is sensuous and moving. Beautifully lit as well (as is the whole production).

Though everyone played a key role in this wonderful version, I would also want to note Matti Houghton, last seen by us in The Caucasian Chalk Circle, who made for a furiously spiky 'little' Hermia. Mark Wootton (Bottom) - though his comedy on screen really hasn't been to my liking - was ideally cast here and brought a note of genuine slapstick to the proceedings that was truly funny. I actually found Bottom's transformation at the hands of Puck rather disturbing, but he was hilarious. Indeed, all the 'players' were excellent and I loved the lion's footstep sound-effects.

Overall, pure joy and pleasure. I only wish I could see it again - and that I had not missed the previous night's play.

Helen Lisette missed out on seeing Arsher Ali as Puck/Robin Goodfellow (and his other guise of Philostrate), and instead saw Lanre Malaolu whom Neil and I last saw in Marat/Sade playing the exceptionally onanistic Duperret. (Indeed, we struggled to imagine him as Puck, but HLW assured us he was very good indeed).


JoeinVegas said...

I still marvel at your ability to go to things like this, while we get the Cirque du Soleil and Manilow.

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

It is one of the key joys of living in the UK: distances are relatively small and the culture is broad.