Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Noël Coward Theatre ✭✭✭

Shakespeare’s much loved comedy characters – the Falstaffs, Dogberrys and Bottoms, admired for their bawdiness and misplaced lexical confidence, traditionally make appearances between lofty, serious scenes for the sake of comic relief. However, partly due to innovative casting, the separation between the tragic and the comic is skewed in this hallucinatory production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the fourth instalment of the Michael Grandage season.

This production is sexy and funny, if not particularly revolutionary or moving. What starts off wooden and stilted loosens up when the walls of the Athenian palace are flown out and the nocturnal, hazy, inebriated realm of the fairies is revealed. The theme of control vs chaos is then brilliantly explored through the gradual dishevelment of the uptight Athenian lovers whose “reeds of Athens” are soon hanging by their ankles. Katherine Kingsley is brilliant as a leggy, self-deprecating, gawky Helena. Additionally, Sam Swainsbury’s Lysander “riddles very prettily,” at such ease with the poetry so as to disguise it almost entirely. The same can be said too of Stefano Braschi as Demetrius and Susannah Fielding as Hermia, whose looks and comic ability give the production its spark. Bedazzled and intoxicated, lost somewhere between sleeping and dreaming, the lovers screech, grasp and claw at each other, clamouring to restore the love triangle they are accustomed to. Their climactic sequence in the 2nd act is the finest fifteen minutes of the play, earning the foursome a rapturous applause.

This production is sexy and funny, if not particularly revolutionary or moving.

David Walliams as Bottom defies the more grotesque Bottoms that have gone before him, bringing a greater effeminacy and flamboyance to the role. Performing in the manner he is famed for, he is as funny and as likeable as ever. It’s hard to imagine these mechanicals doing anything mechanical, but the mish mash company of wannabe thespians, bringing the play to a close with their hysterical rendition of Pyramus and Thisbe, give the production a lick of charm and heart.

Sheridan Smith plays an impassioned, flirtatious Titania, leading the mischievous, tribal fairies who languish around her – content, lackadaisical, deliriously hungover. Equal parts nimble and sleepy, they soar through the space, in silhouette of the the enormous, oratory moon and at the mercy of troublemaker Puck, played by the athletic Gavin Fowler. Whilst most of the choreography reflects the liberated, festival vibe, the songs generally stall the otherwise rapid pace of the production. A final song and dance between Titania and Oberon, for example, is brilliantly executed and entertaining, but unfortunately resembles the finale of Dirty Dancing.

As Athenians scramble through the woods in ‘tighty-whities’ and psychedelic fairies ghoulishly press against the transparent walls of Theseus’ home, the juxtaposition between the two realms diminishes. Grandage’s young, trippy Dream certainly blurs concord with discord and entrances its audience, but ultimately denies us of its greater depth and darkness.

*** (3 stars)
Runs until 16th November 2013
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