Sending up the magic

Having seen A Midsummer Night's Dream by Peter Brook and the Royal Shakespeare Company, words by William Shakespeare, I conclude that the Bard is a mere runner-up to the buffoonery.

The poetry that distinguishes the Dream is so overlaid with gimmickry and stage business that it almost vanishes from sight.

What Mr Brook is trying to achieve, I think, is basic simplicity, but the production is so encumbered with by-play and so littered with ropes, pulleys, sound effects and technicalities that the magic evaporates.

Mr Brook demonstrates that man is an ass all right. He also demonstrates that man can misunderstand simplicity by making it complicated.

Mr Brook doubles up the fairy king and queen with the mortal duke and duchess, a move which, quite apart from saving actors, gives us the impression that the sprite is in all of us, that even the most incredible of happenings are not above mundane mankind.

The action all takes place in a vast white, blank set which at first I thought was like a circus big top, then more like a squash court and finally like a polar bear pit at the zoo. All could have their relevances, so I finally take it to be a mixture of all three.

The three white walls are flanked by scaffold ladders and topped with a platform and metal rails.

Inside the white walls our fairies and our people play out the story, with endless buffoonery, swinging on trapezes, minor acrobatics and circus tricks.

Alan Howard as Oberon and Theseus is, as expected, commanding and noble, though he looks a little seasick swinging about on those trapezes. Sara Kestelman is his lady, both as the duke and the fairy, and she matches him in all things, except the worried look when high flying.

John Kane is an interesting Puck, at times likeable and funny, at others devilish. David Waller is an extremely credible Bottom.

Among his colleagues, Norman Rodway gives a first-class demonstration of what can be done on stage without speaking a word. As Snout, he wanders vacantly about, the frightened, brainless, hilarious, little man. Then, gabbling a few lines, he races off.

At the end the cast leap off stage and shake hands with the audience, leap back on stage and applaud the audience, jump in the air and throw kisses to the audience.

A simple set of gestures which just adds to the confusion.


Birmingham Sunday Mercury, 30.8.70


Playing Shakespeare/Dream