Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare, directed by Trevor Nunn, New Wolsey Theatre, until July 9
PUBLISHED: 13:47 22 June 2016 | UPDATED: 13:47 22 June 2016
Â© Mike Kwasniak Photography 2016
One of the joys of watching Shakespeare on stage is the opportunity to marvel at the innovative ways his plays can be re-interpreted. Providing you pay attention to the text then the options would appear to be endless.
Sir Trevor Nunn’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the New Wolsey Theatre imaginatively transports us from historic Athens to India during the dying days of the Raj. The transfer of location, with it’s “spiced Indian air”, works wonderfully well as the hierarchy of society and the obedience that daughters need to give their fathers is present in both settings.
This landmark production not only marks the 15th anniversary of the re-opening of the New Wolsey but finds Sir Trevor completing his Shakespearean jigsaw – having directed every one of Shakespeare’s 37 plays.
It’s a visually rich production, played with great style and pace by the large, very experienced cast. English ex-pat types mingle with Indian aristocrats and both are waited upon by poorer members of society.
Sir Trevor has a very lyrical vision for the play. It’s magical – and he retains the very English notion of fairies – but sets them in a forest where ancient temple columns nestle alongside tall moss covered tree trunks.
There are also plenty of laughs to be had with the comedy, satisfyingly, arising out of characterisation and the extra bits of business that the actors bring to their roles – along with some inspired delivery of the lines.
Imogen Daines is terrifically spikey as the love-lorn Helena, creating a role that communicates with gestures and slaps as well as words. She is a woman not to be crossed and plays well opposite the far more romantically inclined Hermia, touchingly portrayed by Neerja Naik. Their spat about their comparative heights is a total delight.
But, for all the laughs, A Midsummer Night’s Dream has a dark side which Sir Trevor doesn’t shy away from. At the very start of the play, Hermia’s father demands that his daughter be put to death if she does not marry Demetrius, the suitor he has chosen for her. Unfortunately, Hermia loves the young Lysander and the pair steal away into the forest, hoping to elope, but are pursued by Helena and Demetrius.
The laughter, created by mad-cap antics of the lovers and the fairies’ match-making mayhem, is given an added sense of danger by their disregard of the father’s authority. You are always aware that there’s more at stake here than the possibility of a broken heart.
The fairy kingdom has a suitably ethereal quality, lit by soft shafts of light and the dialogue given a slight echo. The actors are also perpetually in motion. The roles of lead fairy and Puck, performed peerlessly by Michelle Bishop and Esh Alladi, are danced as much as acted. Their colourful costumes enhanced by day-glo body-paint, which is picked up by the dappled lighting.
Keeping with tradition, Sir Trevor has the actors playing Duke Theseus and his bethrothed Hippolyta, also re-appearing as Oberon, King of the Fairies, and Titania, his wilful Queen. West End actors Matt Rawle and Fiona Hampton give the play a wonderful sense of authority.
But, as with most productions of The Dream, the audience inevitably come away talking about the antics of The Mechanicals, the hapless band of would-be actors, rehearsing a play to celebrate the Duke’s wedding.
This time they are a group of Indian street-sellers and craftsmen and the interplay between them is priceless. Nick Bottom The Weaver, played by Kulvinder Ghir, is usually the person who steals the spotlight, but on this occasion the performances are so strong that Bottom has to share the honours with his expressive fellow traders Peter Quince (Harmage Singh Kalirai) and Starveling (Muzz Khan).
It’s a production which is fast, inventive, thoughtful and hugely entertaining. Which other Shakespeare production ends, quite fittingly, with the entire cast performing an energetic bhangra dance?
A truly magical evening.