A Midsummer Night’s Dream

It's faint praise, but it must be reported that this production from the Royal Shakespeare Co. is by no means as dire as its devastating London reviews would suggest. ("Miserably undercast, grotesquely overdesigned, sloppily directed," to quote just one.)

With:
Theseus - Peter Lindford Hippolyta - Priyanga Elan Egeus, Robin Starveling - Steven Beard Hermia - Gabrielle Jourdan Lysander - Michael Colgan Demetrius - Paul Chequer Helena - Nikki Amuka-Bird Philostrate, Moth - Fergus Craig Oberon - Tim McMullan Titania - Yolanda Vazquez Puck - Dominic Cooper First Fairy - Michele Wade Peaseblossom - Meredith MacNeill Cobweb - Stephen Wright Mustardseed - Oliver Maltman Peter Quince - Martin Savage Nick Bottom - Darrel D'Silva Francis Flute - Richard Dempsey Tom Snout - Gareth Farr Snug - Dale Rapley

It’s faint praise, but it must be reported that this production from the Royal Shakespeare Co. is by no means as dire as its devastating London reviews would suggest. (“Miserably undercast, grotesquely overdesigned, sloppily directed,” to quote just one.) Since opening in Stratford-upon-Avon in February, the production has toured extensively; maybe it’s in better shape now, as its tour culminated in New Haven, than it was when first unveiled. Nevertheless, many elements are unlovable, primarily the production’s adherence to the tiresome cult of the uglies, in which directors and designers go out of their way to make productions look as unappetizing as possible.

Here, yet again, the set is basically black, the reverse of Peter Brook’s famous white “Dream.” It’s a black box relieved by splashes of white and decorated by an ever-increasing number of huge flies. The no-color scheme continues in costumes of black, white and dirty-gray. Some are contemporary, right down to the underwear revealed on the four young lovers as well as on Bottom (Darrell D’Silva) as Titania (Yolanda Vazquez), in a slightly seedy black-and-glitter evening gown, strips him of his clothing in a sexual frenzy. Other garb is suggestive of ancient Greece. None is flattering.

The performances start out well vocally with Peter Lindford’s clear, clean, likeable Theseus; Lindford is also the understudy of Tim McMullan, who plays Oberon’s understudy and suggests that he’d be preferable to McMullan, who makes little impression other than looking like a rock promoter. Though there’s no great Shakespearean acting in evidence, most of the cast projects the text with meaning and personality. Gabrielle Jourdan is particularly winning as Hermia.

As for all that black and grayness (the fairies, in black with queasy-green hair, look like Macbeth’s witches), it suggests a deliberate anti-beauty stance on the part of director Richard Jones and his designers. There’s even an actor dressed as a threatening black tree with tangled rootlike branches. But the production is never actually scary, so it can’t really be termed a nightmare rather than a dream.

The workmen-players who perform the Pyramus and Thisby wedding entertainment are introduced as if they’re on their way home from work by train, electric-light poles whizzing by the window. They’re a nicely differentiated bunch led by D’Silva’s born-ham Bottom, lank hair over his forehead. Their over-the-top Victorian melodrama reading of the play-within-the-play actually is amusing, not least because of D’Silva’s histrionics and Dale Rapley as an elegantly frock-coated Victorian lion with a paper-curl mane.

A bare-chested young man rather than boy as Puck, Dominic Cooper has physical fun sweeping characters offstage at the start and end of the play and dashing around in between, at one point juggling a globe of the world on his feet.

The production ends with Puck’s shadow painted large across a front drop, just prior to which another front drop reveals the three sets of lovers in bed with their rightful partners. The Hermia-Helena-Lysander-Demetrius shenanigans are just plain knock-down, drag-out.

The most accomplished production elements is Jonathan Dove’s music, which is tinkled and tooted on trumpet, harp, double bass, percussion and keyboard. It introduces an element of magic to a production that has almost none to offer elsewhere.

This is the fourth year in a row the RSC has played New Haven’s fest. Only once has it truly distinguished itself, with Antony Sher’s “Macbeth” in 2000. Still, this “Dream” is better than some of its other offerings.

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Shubert Theater, New Haven, Conn.; 1,600 seats; $48 top

Production: An Intl. Festival of Arts & Ideas presentation of the Royal Shakespeare Co. production of the play by William Shakespeare in two acts. Directed by Richard Jones.

Creative: Set, Giles Cadle; costumes, Nicky Gillibrand; lighting, Matthew Richardson; music, Jonathan Dove; movement, Linda Dobell; fight director, Alison de Burgh; sound, Matt McKenzie for Autograph; music director, Paul Higgs. Royal Shakespeare Co. artistic director, Adrian Noble. Intl. Festival of Arts & Ideas director, Mary Miller. Opened June 26, 2002, reviewed June 27. Running time: 2 HOURS, 45 MIN.

Cast: Theseus - Peter Lindford Hippolyta - Priyanga Elan Egeus, Robin Starveling - Steven Beard Hermia - Gabrielle Jourdan Lysander - Michael Colgan Demetrius - Paul Chequer Helena - Nikki Amuka-Bird Philostrate, Moth - Fergus Craig Oberon - Tim McMullan Titania - Yolanda Vazquez Puck - Dominic Cooper First Fairy - Michele Wade Peaseblossom - Meredith MacNeill Cobweb - Stephen Wright Mustardseed - Oliver Maltman Peter Quince - Martin Savage Nick Bottom - Darrel D'Silva Francis Flute - Richard Dempsey Tom Snout - Gareth Farr Snug - Dale Rapley

More Legit

  • Mean Girls Tina Fey

    Stagecraft Podcast: Tina Fey on Comedy, Broadway and 'Mean Girls'

    It’s faint praise, but it must be reported that this production from the Royal Shakespeare Co. is by no means as dire as its devastating London reviews would suggest. (“Miserably undercast, grotesquely overdesigned, sloppily directed,” to quote just one.) Since opening in Stratford-upon-Avon in February, the production has toured extensively; maybe it’s in better shape […]

  • COLIN CALLENDER STRICTLY BUSINESS Podcast

    Strictly Business Podcast: Colin Callender on 'Cursed Child' and Navigating Co-Productions

    It’s faint praise, but it must be reported that this production from the Royal Shakespeare Co. is by no means as dire as its devastating London reviews would suggest. (“Miserably undercast, grotesquely overdesigned, sloppily directed,” to quote just one.) Since opening in Stratford-upon-Avon in February, the production has toured extensively; maybe it’s in better shape […]

  • Patricia Morison Dead: 'Kiss Me Kate'

    Patricia Morison, Stage Star of 'Kiss Me, Kate,' Dies at 103

    It’s faint praise, but it must be reported that this production from the Royal Shakespeare Co. is by no means as dire as its devastating London reviews would suggest. (“Miserably undercast, grotesquely overdesigned, sloppily directed,” to quote just one.) Since opening in Stratford-upon-Avon in February, the production has toured extensively; maybe it’s in better shape […]

  • Prince Harry Meghan Markle

    Who's on the Royal Wedding Guest List?

    It’s faint praise, but it must be reported that this production from the Royal Shakespeare Co. is by no means as dire as its devastating London reviews would suggest. (“Miserably undercast, grotesquely overdesigned, sloppily directed,” to quote just one.) Since opening in Stratford-upon-Avon in February, the production has toured extensively; maybe it’s in better shape […]

  • In the Heights

    'In the Heights': Warner Bros. Wins Movie Rights to Lin-Manuel Miranda's Musical

    It’s faint praise, but it must be reported that this production from the Royal Shakespeare Co. is by no means as dire as its devastating London reviews would suggest. (“Miserably undercast, grotesquely overdesigned, sloppily directed,” to quote just one.) Since opening in Stratford-upon-Avon in February, the production has toured extensively; maybe it’s in better shape […]

  • School of Rock

    'School of Rock' Captures the Heart and Soul of Messy Adolescence

    It’s faint praise, but it must be reported that this production from the Royal Shakespeare Co. is by no means as dire as its devastating London reviews would suggest. (“Miserably undercast, grotesquely overdesigned, sloppily directed,” to quote just one.) Since opening in Stratford-upon-Avon in February, the production has toured extensively; maybe it’s in better shape […]

  • From left, creators David Henry Hwang,

    David Henry Hwang Hopes Hillary Clinton Will See 'Soft Power'

    It’s faint praise, but it must be reported that this production from the Royal Shakespeare Co. is by no means as dire as its devastating London reviews would suggest. (“Miserably undercast, grotesquely overdesigned, sloppily directed,” to quote just one.) Since opening in Stratford-upon-Avon in February, the production has toured extensively; maybe it’s in better shape […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content