A dark spin has been given to Shakespeare’s tale of love betrayal and desire in Joe Hill-Gibbins’s lackluster new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Young Vic), in which enchantment and magic are conspicuously absent.
I had hoped this radical re-imagining of the bard’s most famous comedy would rediscover the disturbing origins of the faerie kingdom that provides the play’s setting. However there is nothing nightmarish or insightful about this version – no true madness or twisted visions. Instead the fleetness of foot found in Dream has been replaced by a plodding relationship drama, a stage strewn with muddy dirt and an almost total absence of wit. The most striking aspect of this production Johannes Schiltz’s arena of mud is also its biggest misconception – it is nothing but a gimmick, one that contributes to the dour, trudging tone. Indeed as the characters slide around and get increasingly filthy, they resemble revellers at Glastonbury. There is also I should add a giant mirror on the rear wall to emphasise the play’s interest in reversals and distortions.
Yet, against overwhelming odds, the cast manages to introduce a degree of credibility into the proceedings. Jemima Rooper as Hermia manages to convey what it is like to be tormented by desire, while Anastasia Hill doubles impressively as Hippolyta and Titania, and Michael Gauld’s Oberon wields power with a chilling sadism. Leo Bill is a comic, exactable but also truly grotesque Botton and the ass’s outfit he finds himself in is a queasy combination of flesh-coloured tights and plastic bottles. Lloyd Hutchinson’s Puck is no airy sprite but a lumen, reluctant servant in a bad wig, while Aaron Heffernan makes a posturing Francis Flute and Mathew Steer a barely competent Peter Quince..
This, though, is one dream you certainly won’t remember!
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Playing at the Young Vic until 1 April 2017Last modified: December 8, 2020