We saw Michael Grandage’s Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Noel Coward Theatre uncharacteristically late in its run as it finishes this weekend, so I went with preconceived notions of how good it is. Needless to say, I concur with the majority of critical comments but not necessarily with others.
It is almost universally agreed that David Walliams playing Bottom proves he is a comic actor par excellence, whilst Sheridan Smith as Titania and Hippolyta is an actress who never disappoints. Some of the remaining cast do not fare so well, but sitting at the rear of the stalls may have something to do with it, as my main complaint is not hearing them terribly well. Perhaps it’s their lack of experience of performing Shakespeare, yet D.W. and S.S. can also fall into this category and I heard and understood every word they uttered. They also bring light and shade to every speech, so Shakespeare’s poetry can be enjoyed to the full. The same cannot be said for Katherine Kingsley’s Helena. She is at times blissfully funny, especially when using her height to portray self-conscience gangliness, but her frenzied love for Demetrius is all too often highlighted by raising her voice a couple of octaves resulting in my turning off my concentration button. Susannah Fielding’s Hermia is much better. She manages to be coherent even when sobbing.
The production, designed by the magnificent Christopher Oram is set in the sixties, with the fairies transformed into spliff smoking, shades wearing hippy types. Titania herself has borrowed the Tina Turner look and Sheridan Smith revels in playing her with abandoned sexuality. In fact this wood after dark is a very sexy place indeed, as we also find the star-crossed lovers, wantonly removing items of clothing whenever one of them falls in love at first sight. None of them prove much of a problem for Costumer Supervisor Poppy Hall, as Demetrius and Lysander in particular spend much of their time running around in their underwear, whilst Puck (a very fit Gavin Fowler) goes topless.
David Walliams keeps his clothes on throughout and very fetching he is too. Camping it up to perfection in his braces, the stage-struck weaver is constantly striving for a larger part in the play, Pyramus and Thisbe the Athenian workmen are planning to put on for Duke Theseus’s wedding to Hippolyta. When transformed as the buck-toothed, big eared ass, he illustrates total bi-sexuality by delighting in Titania’s lustful embraces and the sight of a very hairy fairy in equal measure. Connecting with his audience is as easy as pie for our Little Britain star, who is fast turning into a national treasure.
Michael Grandage infuses the sixties “happening” with music from the era, which is complimented perfectly by Christopher Oram’s giant moonlit wonderland. A clever concept for a Shakespeare play seldom performed in the West End.A