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Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, RSC, 1968, ****

The classic  Peter Hall film of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is available:

To Stream (or download) for Amazon Prime Members for free at A Midsummer Night’s Dream

As a DVD from Amazon.com for $19.49

Prices are indicative – check the actual price at the Vendors’ links above.

Our Bottom Line:

A classic production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Peter Hall in 1968 with a cast from the RSC. The technical quality of the production is not up to modern standards (4 x 3 image size; poor sound and image quality) but the quality and wit of the speaking of Shakespeare’s play is superb, delivered by a host of the UK’s best actors of the time. Some near nudity which we found perfectly appropriate, but some may find offensive.

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Our Review (****)

 I obtained an Amazon Fire stick at Christmas (no it wasn’t a present, but it’s too long a story) along with Amazon Prime membership, so once I’d got the technology up and running, the first thing I did is search for ‘Shakespeare’. There are about sixteen productions on Amazon Prime of which two immediately stood out: Peter Hall’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with RSC actors from 1968, and the Laurence Olivier film of Hamlet from 1948 (to be reviewed).

I had heard of the Peter Hall  RSC Dream, but had never managed to track down a copy, so it went straight to the top of my ‘Watch list’ and now it has been watched, and here are my impressions of it.

A number of things stand out, good and bad:

The quality of the sound and images is poor: sibilant ‘S’s abound; the colour is faded; the print is scratched and marked; there are a number of poor cuts – one might almost say continuity slips. For many used to 21st Century production values these problems may get so much ‘in the way’ that it may prevent them enjoying the show.

The image ratio is 4 x 3, which has a number of consequences: many scenes are rather static in movement – it’s hard to present fast-moving scenes in a 4 x 3 format, but the frequent use of close-ups of principals’ faces give full reign to rather subtle facial expressions which enrich the characterisation.

The quality of the actors’ line-speaking is unsurpassed. Peter Hall (and John Barton and Trevor Nunn) at the RSC majored on getting high-quality interpretations of Shakespeare’s lines. Even Theseus (Derek Godfrey) managed to make his difficult lines comprehensible and sympathetic. Other actors impressed as well: Judi Dench (of course); Diana Rig and Helen Mirren (of course), and Ian Holm, Ian Richardson, and David Warner, If you want to remind yourself (or young people) of how Shakespeare should be spoken you can’t do better than watch this production. Well, maybe you could – if you bought a copy of the DVD and made a copy of the sound track, you’d have a wonderful ‘radio’ production of the play.

The cast is a list of most of the great and good of the UK’s acting profession of the time, though considerably younger than they are today: Judi Dench (Titania); Helen Mirren (Hermia); Diana Rig (Helena) take the leading female roles. Ian Holm (Puck); Ian Richardson (Oberon); David Warner (Lysander); and Bill Travers (Snout); lead the men. There are even two of Judi Dench’s nieces playing First Fairy and Peaseblossom. All of them live up to their reputations.

For those of us who can remember the late 60s, the production raises a number of fond memories: the very long straight hair, and the very short mini-skirts of the time; Theseus’s strange haircut and eccentric beard bring back an era of individual expressionism.

Perhaps the most noticeable difference between this production and modern productions is the lack of action. If you watch The Globe’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream you’ll see a lot more action (A mock batttle between Theseus and the Amazons; the four lovers making Greek Vase tableaux; and most notably the rude mechanicals’ production of Pyramus and Thisbe). It seems that each production has to outdo the previous production for the slapstick in that scene. In Peter Hall’s production, the humour comes from the verse, there’s almost no slapstick. In fact all the rude mechanical scenes are played for the humour in the verse. Personally, I think Shakespeare’s plays are enriched with a bit of slapstick, but I like it to complement the play, not focus solely on making the audience laugh. There has to be a balance.

Conclusion:

If you’re a member of Amazon Prime and like Shakespeare, watch it.

If you love Shakespeare’s verse, watch it.

If you want to share your love of Shakespeare’s verse with a younger generation, watch it with them.

If you are interested in the development of Shakespeare productions in the twentieth-century, watch it.

 

Richard Forsyth
‘The Director’
Players-Shakespeare.com

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3 Responses to "Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, RSC, 1968, ****"

  • Emilson Garcia
    January 6, 2017 - 8:25 am Reply

    I am from Niterói City, Rio de Janeiro State, Brazil.
    I am a Storyteller for adults, only.
    I use to tell Shakespeare’s plays in my performances.
    So I am very interested in the development of Shakespeare productions.
    Thank you very much.

    • Richard Forsyth
      January 6, 2017 - 8:44 am Reply

      Hi Emilson,

      Thanks for your post.
      Keep watching the web-site.
      There’ll be a lot more on performing Shakespeare in the coming months.
      Best wishes,
      Richard Forsyth

      • Emilson Garcia
        January 6, 2017 - 8:58 am Reply

        Hi Richard

        Thank you.
        My best wishes.

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