Robert Tanitch reviews A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Young Vic, London SE1
If I were asked which of Shakespeare’s plays is the most performed I would guess it was A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For a very long time it was the safest Shakespeare you could take very young children to.
But no longer. The comedy has been brutalised at the Young Vic. It’s a Dream with very few laughs and no fairy magic.
Anybody, who saw what Joe Hill-Gibbins did to Measure for Measure, can easily guess what they might be in for. The handbill promises he will “dive into the subconscious of Shakespeare’s masterpiece.” If only he had!
The ugly staging is played straight through in two hours without interval. The stage is a muddy field and behind it is a huge mirror wall. Everybody remains on stage all the time, trudging through the mud.
What visions have I seen! The lovers constantly quarrelling, fighting and rolling about on the ground and on each other get very, very, very dirty.
Puck (Lloyd Hutchinson) is not a knavish lad but a lazy, negligent, Irish slob who says he can put a girdle round the earth in 40 minutes (implying that he could but won’t do it any quicker). He pours a whole bottle of the Love-in-Idleness juice over a sleeping Lysander
The drugged lovers lie on the ground and look like corpses on a battle field.
Leo Bill’s Bottom’s transformation to Ass, one of the iconic scenes in Shakespeare, is a major visual disappointment. His confession that he wants to sleep is a major disappointment for Titania (Anastasia Hille) and the best joke.
For a finale the mechanicals performing Pyramus and Thisbe and the courtiers watching them perform become indivisible and the fierce vexations of a Dream turn into a messy Nightmare. “Are you still awake? Are you still awake?” cry the actors as hand-in-hand they race around the stage like crazy.