Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream (Scottish Opera, at Theatre Royal Glasgow)
Updated: Jun 1, 2022
Do you ever take a nap in the middle of the afternoon without setting an alarm? You don’t know when you will wake up, you don’t know what the consequences will be, you don’t even you if you’ll feel any more rested. But you do know that right now, with your clothes on underneath the sheets, you are going to lap up every little bit of sleep you can get. That combination of softness and danger epitomises Scottish Opera’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Dominic Hill directs this production of Benjamin Britten’s opera based on Shakespeare’s beloved story about tangled romances, boastful actors, and powerful magic. Here, the fairy kingdom is put to the forefront; grand beds that hang from the ceiling, a stage dusted with snow almost like a cake, and a cohort of ashen-faced children in ragged clothes that represent the fairies themselves.
Hill’s first priority for the production seems to be world creation. In the aesthetics, in the performances, and in the dramaturgy. The realm of the Athenians and the realm of the Fairies do not seem so distant, it is as though the Fairy kingdom encroaches ever more invitingly (and simultaneously every more threateningly) onto the stage. It’s a world of elevated whimsy, best exemplified by a moment when Puck lifts a burgundy balloon and pops it to reveal a magic flower inside. Like the Athenians, the audience never know quite what to expect. It’s a rare thing to find a performance that is both surprising and sophisticated. The central figures for this imagining are Oberon (Lawrence Zazzo) and Tytania (Catriona Hewitson); this is their stage above all else. Hewitson performs Tytania in a way that is effortlessly confident, and commits wholeheartedly to her infatuation with Bottom. Unfortunately, Zazzo does not match up as her sparring partner. He lacks the power and domineering presence for Oberon, especially an Oberon as omnipresent as this. Even so, his performance is more than made up for by the chorus of young fairies. Their carefully coordinated playfulness is some of the best child acting and direction I have seen on stage, particularly from wee stars like Jessie-Lou Harvie.
With the focus of the performance being within the fairy kingdom, the initial scenes of the romance and quarrel between Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius and Helena are cut down to a single opening tableau; a renaissance-style stage image that encapsulates the emotional turmoil of the situation without going into the specifics. It simplifies the situation, which does come at a cost; while Charlie Drummond has space to shine as Helena, there is very little that Jonathan McGovern can do to save his cut-down Demetrius from being cruel and shallow. Similarly, despite a wonderfully directed and performed scene of comedic confessions of love, there is little time to celebrate its eventual resolution. Even so, this reduction of this story means that it has equal weight with that of the acting troupe, led by the eminently watchable David Shipley as Bottom. This refreshing and easy-to-follow balance is as inviting for newcomers as it is for familiar audiences.
For those who already know the text, do not approach this production expecting to see it in a new light. This is not a retelling that comes to the stage with bold new reading. Instead, it is a successfully executed vision, which even if it is familiar delivers visual splendour, inventive storytelling, and a host of fun and effective performances. Four stars.
Whispers from the Crowd:
It was visually amazing, and the transitions were seamless.