Robert Tanitch reviews ENO’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at London Coliseum
In 1662 Samuel Pepys saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the first time and thought it the most insipid ridiculous play he had ever seen. I have had bad Dreams, too.
Benjamin Britten’s Dream is not my favourite Britten. The watered-down libretto he and Peter Pears wrote sticks to Shakespeare’s words but the poetry has gone out of them
Robert Carsen’s production, designed by Michael Levine, which premiered in 1991 at Aix-en-Provence, gets its third revival by ENO, conducted by Alexander Soddy.
It’s all very dreamy and without menace. EN0 conservatives will, I suspect, much prefer it to Christopher Alden’s outrageous 2011 production
In Act 1 the whole of the stage floor is a gigantic double-bed. In Act 2 there is a dormitory of seven single beds and then there are just three hanging beds.
There is a magical moment when the three beds and floor sheet are lifted into the flies in one fell sweep. There are no beds in the last act. The stage is blindingly white and total empty.
Britten said he wanted singers who can act. The cast features five members of ENO’s Harwood Artist Programme, the training and performance scheme for exceptional singers at the start of their careers.
The lovers (David Webb, Matthew Durkan, Clare Presland and Eleanor Dennis) are expected to sing whilst doing lots of physical things, such as fighting, plunging, falling into giant pillows and bouncing on beds.
Tytania, Queen of the Fairies (Soraya Mafi, wonderful), is married to a castrato so a one-night stand with an ass (with his long ears, etc) would clearly be a night to remember. Eee-aaaah! Ee-aaah!!
Oberon (sung by counter-tenor by Christopher Ainslie) is vocally underpowered and so bland as to have no authority. It is a relief to have a bass (a lively Joshua Bloom) sing Bottom.
Puck is non-singing role and played by an amusing pratfalling middle-aged actor, Miltos Yerolemou, who is more bully demon than fairy.
The lamentable performance of Pyramus and Thisbe by the rustics needs to be much funnier.
The fairies are played by Trinity Boys Choir as footmen in green tailcoat, blue cap, blue trousers, red gloves, green shoes, red lips and moustache. They have been drilled by Matthew Bourne. They put on surgical gloves to scratch Bottom’s ass’s head. The lullaby is beautifully sung.