The layout of the Rose Theatre’s auditorium meant that I couldn’t see a darn thing, despite the actors (apparently) being no more than 20 feet away. The talking giggling schoolgirls meant I practically couldn’t hear anything, and excluding the exemplary performances of the Mechanicals, and the enchanting grace and sophistication of Dame Judi’s performance, there really was very little to make this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream very remarkable.
I may of course still be embittered by the somewhat disastrous events of Monday night (22nd February), where not only did we mistake the time of the performance due to a typographical error, and consequently arriving 5 minutes after the performance had started, but also the irritation of having to endure some really inconsiderate behaviour on part of some of the audience.
Admitting late-comers and potentially disturbing the performance mid-flow isn’t fair on either the actors, or indeed the audience whom managed to turn up on time. However in this instance, the behaviour of the audience, and the point at which we were allowed to find our seats (mid-way through a mechanicals scene), we might as well have been let in when we arrived five minutes late.
After (as I’ve already mentioned) not gaining access until after the first half hour had passed, we eventually managed to squeeze ourselves beside some pubescent school-girls who had occupied our seats. And whom were obligingly texting, and giggling at matters completely un-related to the events occurring about 20 feet below.
It is therefore unjustifiable for me to review this production, and contemplate its efforts with due fairness considering the circumstances outside of the theatre’s control. However, I feel that since this is, after-all, a ‘blog’, that I could provide you with a ‘critical over-view’ without blemishing my conscience… too much.
The mechanicals were extraordinarily funny. The physical humour adopted to help portray the ‘Tedious-brief’ scene of Pyramus and Thisbe even managed to drag the school-girls away from their mobiles for five seconds.
However, the rest of the production, based within an Elizabethan conceptual frame just didn’t have the super-natural spattering of magic one comes to expect from the Dream. Whilst Dame Judi’s fairy Queen Titania was charming, graceful, and demonstrated her expectedly exceptional mastery of Shakespeare’s language, her younger King of the Fairies Oberon, was a little- flat. There was neither menace, nor royal presence about the Fairy King. He seemed to be used as a dramatic device for squeezing as much humour from the oddly uncomfortable scenes between himself and Puck (poor Puck was trying a little too hard to be ‘spritely’, consequently coming across a bit desperate).
The set too was rather disappointing. Silhouetted trees, various lighting effects and a terribly questionable looking rock didn’t assist in making this production as magical as I was expecting. I may perhaps have seen/ read/ been in this play too many times, and have too concrete a vision of what I expect a production of the Dream to entail: however I also think that there are some elementary themes and ideas in the text that, if not played upon, are entirely wasted. It was a great disappointment to see some of these conceptual opportunities lost to a too solid grounding in historical contextualisation, as the Rose Theatre proudly demonstrates through online publicity: “Set in Elizabethan England, Peter Hall’s new production sees Titania, the Fairy Queen, as a portrait of the ageing Queen Elizabeth I, fascinated with the theatre, besieged by courtiers but ‘married to the people of England.”- (http://www.rosetheatrekingston.org/whats-on/dream). That I’m afraid, was what was entirely wrong with this production. The only non-historical related pizazz was the humour, wonderfully portrayed by a skilled set of actors, from a script perfectly worded by master Shakey himself. Taking the textual context (the Elizabethan era) as a means to create an entire conceptual framework just makes me wonder: why do it? If you want to see a Shakespeare in period dress, get a time-machine. It’s been done. Several thousand times over, over hundreds of years.
As I say, I may be an embittered twenty-something with too much time on her hands, with nothing better to do than whinge about a rather naff Monday night- but then again… well. Turn up late to A Midsummer Night’s Dream on a rainy night, plonk yourself on a ridiculously uncomfy seat next to some GCSE students who don’t really want to be there, then sit through three hours of a disappointingly un-original Shakespearean classic… and tell me if you enjoy it.