“On the dank and dirty ground…”
Joe Hill-Gibbins’ idiosyncratic 2015 take on Measure for Measure filled the Young Vic with inflatable sex dolls so it should come as little surprise that for his A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he and designer Johannes Schütz have transformed the stage into a muddy paddock. With just a mirrored back wall to add to the set, the scene is thus set for an exploration of the “subconscious” of this most oft-seen (particularly in the year gone by) of Shakespeare’s plays.
There’s some great work, delving into the murkiness of the relationships here. Far from spirits “of no common rate”, these royal fairies feel like a real married couple in the throes of having to work things out yet again, Michael Gould’s Oberon’s manipulations as much as anguished as angry, and Anastasia Hille’s Titania relishing the removal of the ball and chain as she plays sex games with Bottom, roleplaying the attending fairies in a witty twist. The intensity of their connection repeats itself later in another clever connection.
And casting upwards in age for the lovers complicates them in a fascinating way, especially with their clear shared sexual history here. Anna Madeley thoroughly owns it as a Helena who knows exactly what she is after in claiming back Demetrius, whilst John Dagleish’s Lysander pushes the boundaries of consent as far as he can before acquiescing to “human modesty”. The woods have rarely felt so dark and once the night is done, Jemima Rooper’s Hermia is left near-catatonic by events and Oliver Alvin-Wilson’s Demetrius seems to have been sent mad.
But for all that it is intriguing and interesting, the production rarely struck me as compelling, it seems to bear the hallmarks of devised work a little too plainly. Melanie Pappenheim’s First Fairy is an ethereally conceived being who delivers her lines in a sing-song manner and twitches and flutters most affectedly throughout and on meeting, Lloyd Hutchinson’s Irish Puck mocks her and her acting style disdainfully. His sardonic approach is amusing, but sitting so far at odds from Pappenheim’s interpretation of fairykind, and in turn from how Oberon and Titania are presented, it feels like a disconnect.
So too the use of music. Latin chorales emphasise the ensemble feel (though smack more of rehearsal room exercises) but once Leo Bill’s Bottom is off the leash, he’s singing soft rock classics like Aerosmith and Maria McKee’s ‘Show Me Heaven’, too often this just feels like a world not cohering. That said, the Mechanicals are highly enjoyable; Bill makes for a dramatically different, guileless Bottom than I’ve ever seen before; and for the second night in a row, the opaqueness of some Shakespearean dialogue was roundly mocked, which tickled me pink. But like many a dream, this Dream feels a bit confused and too ephemeral to linger too long in the mind.