A Midsummer Night's Dream

Tue 3rd July – Sun 26th August 2012

reviews

Thomas Stell

at 03:15 on 5th Jul 2012

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3disagrees

In Wadham’s Garden, the actors leading us from the college’s stone buildings out to the trees and to the delicate lights of fairyland, 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream' has a quaint, calming setting. This is the sort of performance one would expect to see in an Oxford garden - nothing less because of the tasteful design and music, but nothing more because of slightly shabby direction.

Our Athens this evening was Wadham itself, the lovers were students (Demetrius the polo-shirt and loafer wearing kind and Lysander the rock-band tee-shirt and military jacket wearing kind). Egeus has become a don, Quince a head-porter and Bottom a simple gardener. These characterisations, caricatures sometimes, are a success – Demetrius’ cricket jumper, Theseus’ white dinner jacket, and Quince’s slight limp and suit that doesn’t fit are well chosen details. Adrian Lillie the costume designer and the performers themselves are due a lot credit for that.

Unfortunately the actors don’t know how to speak the verse. Antony Jardine as Oberon, Theseus and Quince and Andrew Venning as Lysander labour the words extremely, as if trying unnecessarily hard to make us understand them. The rest of the cast (apart from Alexander McWilliam who plays Demetrius) are also guilty of this, always toiling away at lines which have a perfect music to them if allowed to speak for themselves. There is, moreover, a lot playing around that isn’t in the script – Quince the porter tells us to get off the grass, Puck doesn’t need to get Oberon’s flower from the bank where the wild-thyme blows because Interflora can sell him one, the king and queen of the fairies practise yogic positions as they confront each other. Now I don’t consider myself a purist, nor do I have a Peter Hall-esque obsession with metre, but such intrusions just aren’t necessary if the director knows how to let Shakespeare’s language really live. It is true this production is never boring, but I often wish there were more directors who know there is more to the theatre than not boring an audience. We want to be moved, to be deeply amused, to be touched, inspired, shown a world more beautiful or more grotesque or more tremendous than this one. Theatre of this cheaply irreverent kind, which has in any case been done so much it long ago ceased to be irreverent, can never give us that.

It is a pity that the Oxford Shakespeare Company have created such an ordinary piece of work when two years ago they did a really first class production of 'The Tempest'. I remember it had a brilliant carnival timelessness to it, and all the actors were technically accomplished (Michael Hadley was Prospero). Their composer for 'The Tempest', Nick Lloyd Webber, has come back for this production and has written a good score. It is in a sort of lyrical crossover style, using guitars and singing bowls as well as a flute, trumpet and cello and is fine, but not as distinctive and eerie as that of his previous show for the company.

'The Tempest' had made me think the OSC were a good deal better than most provincial Shakespeare companies, and I was hoping they would live up to my opinion of them tonight. But I am not sure they did, there were too many of the slight faults common among minor theatre groups. Apart from anything else, not a lot of things make one doubt the professionalism of a creative team more than if they sit next to you and take pictures in your face all through the second half. The failings of some of the actors and the director (Gemma Fairlie) meant the show was never really good, but it was a not unpleasant way to spend an evening nevertheless.

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