This version of Midsummer Night’s Dream is a nightmare
By Robert Reid, Record staff
STRATFORD — A Midsummer Night’s Dream is about love, magic and imagination.
British director David Grindley makes an inauspicious Stratford Shakespeare Festival debut by offering a production completely devoid of love or magic.
As far as imagination goes, he distorts and misrepresents one of Shakespeare’s masterworks beyond recognition.
Sadly, Grindley is the latest festival director who subverts enchantment with psycho-sexual excess and nasty gender politics in the name of reinterpreting the Bard for contemporary audiences.
It’s difficult to know where to start, but let’s begin with poetry.
As festival dramaturge Robert Blacker points out in his program notes, A Midsummer Night’s Dream contains some of Shakespeare’s “most glorious poetry on love.” In fact, the play contains some of the most glorious poetry on love in the English language.
You wouldn’t know it from this leering, sneering production, which opened Friday at the Festival Theatre, full as it is with angry yelling, angry shouting and angry screaming.
The words might be Shakespeare’s, but poetry has been replaced with invective.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a festive comedy that lends itself to pageantry and spectacle.
But this production drowns in relentlessly misanthropic excess.
Grindley reduces our four young lovers—Hermia (Sophia Walker), Demetrius (Ian Lake), Lysander (Bruce Godfree) and Helena (Laura Condlln) -- to a quartet of scrapping fools worthy of The Jerry Springer Show. It’s not enough that they tussle, they have to rip off one another’s clothing in an act of prurience spiraling out of control.
The play certainly exposes the madness of love, but turning Helena into a star-crossed lapdog is a bit much, even if it draws a few laughs.
Turning Titania’s fairies into dope-smoking goths is little more than a shallow attempt to pander to younger audiences.
May he rest in peace, Michael Jackson circa Thriller makes an appearance in the guise of Dion Johnstone as Oberon, who plays opposite Yanna McIntosh as Titania.
Tom Rooney is compelling as the malevolent jester Puck, a seething, hissing sexual, serpent with long, misshapen, insinuating fingers.
The only character who comes close to resembling what Shakespeare actually created is Geraint Wyn Davies as the lovable Bottom, a sublime clown who anticipates the great Falstaff.
But even here Grindley stoops for cheap laughs by placing a pair of shoes on Bottom’s head signifying ass’s ears.
Then there’s all the pyrotechnics—the gunfire and bombs, the storm effects, the fog machine. And the silly gags—Puck sprinkling water on the heads of Hermia and Helena from a watering can, as well as down the front of one of the young male lover’s pants.
The less said about the oral sex routine dumped into the play-within-a-play staged by Bottom and his company of “rustic mechanicals” the better.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a profound play about love—sometimes creative, sometimes destructive, sometimes wonderful, sometimes ridiculous, but always a vital and transfiguring force in human affairs.
Not so, here.
When the story shifts from the court of Athens to the enchanted woods, designer Jonathan Fenson has the balcony crash down into the floor of the stage.
While the device is supposed to represent the shattering of the natural world and the plunge into the supernatural world, it acts as an unintentional metaphor of what Grindley does to Shakespeare.
Sitting through this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is like passing an auto crash on the highway. You are simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by the unfortunate accident.
Where there is beauty and wonder in the play, there is nothing but ugliness and cynicism in the production.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues through Oct. 30 at the Festival Theatre. Tickets are available at 1-800-567-1600 or online at stratfordshakespearefestival.com
« Back to index | View thread »