Review (***) ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, dir. Adrian Noble, RSC. Film 4, 1996. 99 minutes.
By Alan Brown
February 26, 2018
‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, is available:
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By Alan Brown
February 26, 2018
Our Bottom Line
A Dream in primary colours with stand-out performances from Alex Jennings and Lyndsay Duncan and a toy theatre. Never has Nick Bottom been so excited.
Go with Oberon on this one: it is all a bit ‘Ill met’. Too much comes together, as the 1996 film follows the Royal Shakespeare Company’s stage production of 1996 and – frankly – it’s a grand rear-end shunt by moonlight.
However, stay with the fairy king and if you ‘Think no more of this night’s accidents / But as the fierce vexation of a dream’, then there is much to reckon with and respect.
There’s toy theatre to start with. Those push-out and pop-up dioramas with characters on small sticks. There is one of these in the Boy’s bedroom. It’s where the camera first lands after tracking down through the clouds. You see the theatre, teddy bears, tin racing cars, a model yacht and a young boy fast asleep with his hand resting lightly on a copy of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, illustrated by Arthur Rackham (that’ll be the 1908 Heinemann edition). It’s midnight and the boy, in requisite striped pyjamas is moving towards the door …
… Boy stops at a door and peeps through the keyhole and sees lots and lots of candles and Theseus and Hippolyta counting the hours towards their wedding night. It is clearly touch and go whether they can contain their desire for each other until then. Boy is pushed aside as the outraged Aegeus storms through the door. And so on, for Boy is always there to watch what happens. He falls a long way (in his dream) and lands in the stove of the village hall where the Mechanicals are to take their parts. He’s there (28:58), at the back of the ‘theatre’ when Oberon tells Puck that he knows a bank where ‘the wild thyme blows’, etc. And (at 1:08), with Oberon and Titania ‘new in amity’, he’s rolls an enormous moon across our eyes. Boy is in the wings of his theatre loving the ‘Lamentable Comedy’ and is then lifted high by the whole cast at the curtain call. I liked it as a framing device and it is entirely admissible as a conceit but it is also a very conspicuous add-on to the stage production.
Performance by the principals is what you would hope. Puck (Barry Lynch) bare chested and in lemon yellow dhoti pants is a telling rogue. Alex Jennings reprises his stage roles as Theseus and Oberon, whilst Lindsay Duncan is Hippolyta and Titania. Jennings’ verse speaking is oratorical and solemnly grounded but he can do light and fury if necessary. Duncan’s Fairy Queen is a translucent beauty and her voice is at its best in caressing and bewitching mode and her abandoned lovemaking to lucky Nick Bottom (Desmond Barrit) – within a giant upturned umbrella at 49:58 – is indeed magic!
Actually, that ten minute sequence at the beginning of Act 3, from the Mechanicals rehearsing to the re-entrance of Hermia and Demetrius (40:22 to 50:23), is probably where stage and film are most successfully joined. It is comic and racy but the high colour of the inventive screenplay does not block either the text or the entertainment. Elsewhere the eye-shadow is remarkable, lurid shock-headed fairies pop out of bubbles and Demetrius and Lysander wear costumes from the Mothercare party range. Doors rise from the floor and the jumble of a toybox displaces the theatre. Shame, because you can see the intent: ‘such tricks hath strong imagination’, for sure, but it is also a case of demonstrating ‘Lord, what fools these mortals be’. There is even a headbutt from Hermia.
As Puck switches the lights in the ‘theatre’ to ‘Off’ at 1:31:33 it is interesting to put this production alongside Russell Davies’ adaptation from 2016. Both, without doubt, are Theseus’ ‘shaping fantasies’ of ‘the poet’s pen’. Adrian Noble and the RSC have Nick Bottom riding high on his motorcycle and sidecar against the moon and stars whilst Davies’ lifts Titania and her Hippolyta in a loving kiss. The stage stays part of the RSC’s Dream but it has become a young boy’s dream of a curiously adult show. Davies’ is the made-for-TV version and is the more exuberant and the more accessible.
Ed.: Now you’ve read the review, why don’t you explore some of the characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream by clicking on one of the following links in our Let’s Explore section from the Index:
|Let’s explore Section|
|Bottom / Pyramus – the leading actor|
|Helena – the rejected lover|
|Puck, or Robin Goodfellow|
|Quince / Prologue – the Elizabethan director|