29 September 2013

About 2/3 of A Midsummer Night's Dream - Noel Coward Theatre, Wednesday 24th September 2013

Theseus/Oberon - Padraic Delaney
Hippolyta/Titania - Sheridan Smith
Egeus - Leo Wringer
Hermia - Susannah Fielding
Demetrius - Stefano Braschi
Lysander - Sam Swainsbury
Helena - Katherine Kingsley
Peter Quince/Moth - Richard Dempsey
Bottom - David Walliams
Francis Flute/Mustardseed - Alex Large
Tom Snout/Peaseblossom - Henry Everett
Snug the Joiner - Craig Vye
Puck - Gavin Fowler
Robin Starveling/Cobweb - Stefan Adegbola

Creative Team:
Director - Michael Grandage
Set and Costumes - Christopher Oram (aka Mrs. Grandage0
Lighting (Paule Constable)

Lordy, this is a lazy production.  Lazy in that the text has been slashed to ribbons (presumably so that the plebs who are flocking to see David Walliams are introduced gently to the concept of Shakespeare; its less than 2 1/2 hours long including the interval) which is surprising because, as someone pointed out to me recently, the Dream is one of the few Shakespeare plays where you don't mind sitting and listening to it all).  Lazy in that the text that does remain is gabbled through at such a pace that you can't hear that much of it anyway - its almost as if the cast are either doing a "speed read" rehearsal or competing among themselves as to who can spit their lines out the fastest, or that someone has their eye on a particular train home and is racing for it.  Lazy in the fact that there are several people in the cast (some in major roles) who have never done any Shakespeare before in their entire lives) - if Mr. Grandage knew that people would be flocking to see someone in particular why did he not bother to give a bit more to his audience by surrounding them with the best actors he could find?  Lazy in the fact that a couple of people in the cast have already appeared in other plays in this season and Mr. Grandage obviously thought it would be easier and cheaper to keep them in the company despite being woefully inadequate for their role in Dream.  Lazy in that there is only one permanent set so there is no sense of "meanwhile, in another part of the forest". Lazy in that all the named fairy parts are doubled by those playing the Mechanicals.   Lazy in that there is absolutely no exploration of the play's darker themes.  Lazy in that although this is being trumpeted as "tickets for a tenner" none of the publicity mentions that in the £10 seats you can only see 2/3 of the stage - when characters stand on the "wild bank" at the rear, all you can see is their feet, and at no point can you see any of the backdrop whatsoever.   Lazy in that Mr. Walliams does nothing - nothing - with the pivotal role of Bottom other than exactly the same as he has always done before.  And lazy in that what comedy there is here mainly consists of cheap laughs rather than any real humour. 
Sheridan Smith is probably the best thing in this, and that isn't saying much.  At least she has a fair stab at Shakespeare's poetic Queen of the Fairies, but she looks and sounds like a superannuated character from Cats. There's nothing of the anger or the darkness of the role on show. She purrs and vamps her way though the part, completely ignoring the brittle yet otherworldy nature of Titania.  She is given no help whatsoever by Padraic Delaney, who is the worst Oberon I have ever seen (and I have seen Dream more times than I care to remember).  He has no gravitas, no mystery, no depth and no authority whatsoever, but giggles and simpers through the part and is seemingly channelling Ed Byrne.  His Theseus is a walking disaster.  The four lovers are anodyne and without a shred of character between them (and between all four can only boast minimal Shakespearean experience).  It would seem that Messrs Swainsbury and Braschi - Lysander and Demetrius respectively - were cast for their rippling torsos and pert buttocks rather than any kind of acting ability.  I suspect that Mr. Grandage fancied a bit of semi-naked eye candy to direct; all four lovers gradually (or not so gradually) lose items of clothing until they are running around the Athenian wood in their scanties.  Obviously not a very muddy wood (even though Titania observes that "the nine men's morris is filled with mud" as a result of the weather being completely out of synch with the season) because all remains pristine; perhaps Proctor and Gamble have put money into the production?  All four of them gabble at such a rate that their scenes become incomprehensible; if I didn't already know the plot backwards then I would have been completely and totally lost as to what was going on.  David Walliams is David Walliams and that is really all that can be said for his "performance".  Its a lazy retread of his various roles in Little Britain and shows us nothing new, nothing of his supposed "range".  I don't think he actually has one;  this is probably all that he can do.  And yet people were practically falling about in the aisles.  I have no idea why.  In retrospect it was fortunate that there were no solo curtain calls because I would have booed very, very loudly.

There was very little magic in this production.  The fairies are 60s hippies, spliffed out and dancing to tracks from the Carpenters and the Beach Boys.  This puts them firmly in the human realm when they should inhabit a parallel, dark world of Faerie. A dangerous world which may mirror the human one but is a fractured, enchanted ones.   At least give the poor buggers some wings, because otherwise it looks like they are just a load of dropouts passing through Athens.  OK, if they are on drugs and tripping out, at least make it look and sound and feel like they are spliffed out.  The magic flower that Oberon uses to enchant the eyes of Titania and the lovers was here a tab of acid - but there was no triply lighting effect, no sense of looking at the world and seeing it changed or somehow beyond your control.  To steal an idea from the FT review below, this entire production takes a puff on a joint but doesn't inhale.  And to steal another idea from the Telegraph, in Shakespeare the "wood" is both inside and outside - its inside your head (a place where you can escape and dream) and outside the city, away from the constraints of being who others expect you to be.  Its a place where you can literally cut loose.  But the production doesn't. 
Its so frustrating when you see a production like this.  All the potential for a really popular "bums on seats" production because of the "big name draw" was wasted.  One cannot blame the cast, merely Mr. Grandage for being so effing lazy.


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