Vanishing Point’s Matthew Lenton has a history of producing challenging work at the Royal Lyceum Theatre. From his rock music take on the John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera to his production of Wonderland which explored pornography through the world of Lewis Carroll. His A Midsummer Night’s Dream is no different, dragging the Shakespearian comedy into the 21st century.
The most obvious shift is his decision to upset the seasons, to set the production in a midwinter snowstorm, with fairies throwing handfuls of snow and wearing fur-lined parka jackets. While Kai Fischer’s magical set is suitably dream-like in atmosphere, akin to Narnia, it is never quite clear what the overall production gains from this change, and the added chill made the transition between dream world and waking world more stilted, a reminder that the world inhabited is already distant from our own. Even as summer crashes in at the end, this dramatic shift in seasonal setting seems little more than a heavy handed exercise in juxtaposition, a confused metaphor.
The production is very physical with an emphasis on comedy, playing up the trials and tribulations of Bottom and the Mechanicals at the expense of the love rectangle between Hermia, Helena, Lysander and Demetrius. There is little variation in tone across the production, and by trivialising the love plot so much, the performances at times veered dangerously close to pantomime.
That said, the performance of the Mechanicals near the end of the play is a highlight, with the cast occupying the boxes in the theatre and the atmosphere of TV talent show created, providing a clever parallel between this dream world and one of more contemporary dreams. Barnaby Power is excellent as Peter Quince, the anxious director watching as his masterpiece is overacted into un-recognisability; it’s a knowing moment with more than a hint of the self referential about it.
As with much of Lenton’s work, there is sense of heightened sensuality about this production, with Titania’s overt sexuality and bikini clad body seeming at times gratuitous, and the semi naked wrestling of Lysander and Demetrius eclipsing many of Helena and Hermia’s most important lines. This is not a production for those who relish subtlety, but then for much of the audience, whooping and at times rocking with laughter, this approach seems to be one that works.