No one does Shakespeare quite like the Young Vic, so when I found out that Joe Hill-Gibbins was directing A Midsummer night’s Dream there, I knew I would have to see it. I ended up taking my mam along, too, as she was down that weekend.
The first thing I noticed was the mud. There was a LOT of mud. The stage was covered in it, and by the end of the play the actors were, too. I reckon I’d be cursing the director if I was one of them. Throughout the course of the play, they would sit in it, push each other into it and even lie down prostrate in it. I’m not entirely sure of the point of the mud, unless it was to visibly represent how the characters were permanently affected by what they went through in the woods. Mud sticks, after all.
The actors all remain on stage through the duration of the show, a decision which sometimes made sense (such as when they were representing fairies and sprites) and sometimes did not ( as when characters seemed privy to conversations that they really shouldn’t have been). Most of the costumes worked well, but Bottom’s donkey get-up was rather grotesque.
On a more positive note, I found the other directorial choices, and the actors’ performances, fresh and engaging. Dream is a play I have seen many times, but many of the things in this production were new to me. In particular, the characters of Bottom and Puck were played as I had never seen them before: puck as a sarcastic Irishman (Lloyd Hutchinson) and Bottom a long-haired ginger, lanky hipster-type with a habit of crooning pop songs (Leo Bill). The four lovers were spot on: Jemima Roper and Anna Madeley perfect as Hermia and Helena, John Dagleish and Oliver Alvin-Wilson superb as Lysander and Demetrius (the former displaying an unexpected brutality). For them at least, the dream becomes more of a nightmare. Hutchinson also plays Egeus, and I have never before seen this character react angrily to the news of Demetrius’ dalliance, with Helena, glaring at him in astonishment as if he cannot believe what he has just heard. Is it here that he first begins to soften against Lysander?
Bottom’s dalliance with Titania and their talk about fairies is represented as some sort of role play, while the decision to have him, during the Mechanicals’ performance, deliver his speech to Hippolyta as the two recognise each other (both are played by Anastasia Hille) and begin to embrace is a blending of fantasy and reality as the players and the watchers all become involved.
Despite some dodgy staging, this is an impressive production of this play with some fine acting (my mam agreed with me). It makes a very familiar play into something entirely different, and deserves to be applauded for this.