Amidst the rain and gloom of September, a small piece of summer can still be found at the Noël Coward Theatre as the Michael Grandage Company (MGC) continue their residency with a new production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Grandage’s aim has been to present a programme of high-quality work with a significant amount of tickets being available for the low price of £10.00 in order to introduce a younger and wider audience to the possibilities of the theatre. Midsummer is the fourth production in MGC’s residency and is the first of two Shakespeare plays to be presented, the second being Henry V with Jude Law that will premiere later this autumn.
In reinventing Midsummer, this new production has departed from the traditional woodland and is instead mostly set in a crumbling mansion with forest murals and an enormous moon that dominates the stage. As befits the dreamlike quality of Midsummer, it is hard to place Grandage’s production in any one particular time or place. Whilst the Athenians are dressed in beige clothes reminiscent of the 1930s, the woods are filled with fairies that sport a mixture of steampunk, rave gear and 1960s psychedelic fashions. The hallucinogenic link to the Summer of Love is carried further as the potion that bewitches Lysander comes in the form of LSD blotter paper and the fairy court spend much of their time inhaling substances of one kind or another while lying in a hazy pile on the ground.
…it was something of a shock to have to leave the forest and return to reality…
The star billing in MGC’s Midsummer goes to Sheridan Smith and David Walliams. Walliams was comical and entertaining as Nick Bottom, but Smith is the standout as Hippolyta/Titania; her feisty quarrels with Oberon are a contrast to the loose, lustful humour of Titania’s infatuation with Bottom. She forgets herself in the potent dream of the midsummer evening, as do the four young lovers who find themselves with less and less clothes on as the night’s events proceed. Katherine Kingsley and Susannah Fielding were excellent as Helena and Hermia, both becoming increasingly exasperated by the behaviour of Lysander and Demetrius when they are under the influence of the love potion. I was as bewitched as the players and it was something of a shock to have to leave the forest and return to reality. This intoxicating, hedonistic interpretation of Midsummer is a bold new vision and a heady escape to a more enchanting realm from the grey drizzle of autumn.