A Midsummer Night's Dream


Brook break-through in 'Dream'

In a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream that will surely make theatre history, Peter Brook last night at Stratford-on-Avon tore through all conventional ideas about how the play should be staged.

He found new ways of giving form to its latent poetry and power.

For setting he offers a dazzling white box. The actors too, wear white - or else plain colours as vivid as a conjuror's silks. The only furniture is four cushions, also white.

Several trapezes hang from the flies. Iron ladders at each side of the stage extend to a railed platform where musicians, zither, guitar or bongo-drums are stationed.

Oberon, Titania and Puck

The naked harshness of this environment is used by Mr Brook as a means of exposing the actors' words and emotions. Its coldness suits the palace scenes admirably, and we are at once seized by the pathetic vehemence of the lovers' protests.

And when the rude mechanicals come on, the white courtyard is exactly right for a gang - it might be their lunch-hour - in flat caps, string vests and braces. Here suddenly Bottom, refused the role of the Lion, downs tools and sulkily walks off the stage and up the theatre aisle.

It is one of many stunning effects. The midnight wood is created with a galaxy of tricks. The trees are steel spirals held on fishing rods from above, and in the helical coils the lovers will be enmeshed.

Above, the fairies scrape washerboards and shake thunder-sheets to give the wood its awesome sounds. Oberon's enchanted herb is represented by a silver dish spinning on a wand, and passed from Oberon's wand to Puck's when both are on moving trapezes.

And when Titania sees Bottom translated, suddenly Mendelssohn's Wedding March blares forth and the stage fills with confetti the size of plates.

In any description, such devices must sound mere gimmicky, I can only report that they held me enthralled as the mood of the play leapt - one never knew what would happen next - from horseplay to startling bawdry, from poetic dignity to seething eroticism and to alarming chases up and down the ladders.

Old lines whose familiarity had bored one for years came up fresh and comic or distressingly apt.

For it was Mr Brook's triumph to generate an atmosphere in which only the poetry mattered. Alan Howard, doubling Theseus and Oberon, discovered a new high dignity. The lovers, whoseemed without wigs or even make-up and who often broke into song when the lines rhymed, were as exposed and as distraught as modern adolescents.

Oberon with the 'silver' disc

No moment was more vivid than Oberon's "This is thy negligence" to the wicked grinning Puck of John Kane. And mention must be made of Philip Locke's gentle, over-anxious Quince and the originality of the teamwork of Bottom (David Waller) and his friends.

Mr Brook has found a new way of making Shakespeare eloquent to this generation.

John Barber

Daily Telegraph, 28.8.70

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