Director Joe Hill-Gibbins returns to the Young Vic with his trademark audacious style in this dirty and stripped back interpretation of the Dream, although Nightmare would perhaps be a more apt title; the play’s darker elements are brought to the forefront and ramped up to the max.
Visually we are offered a vast mud clearing; this production isn’t set in a beautiful forest but something resembling the aftermath of a week-long music festival. Dirt and filth prevail and with actors on stage the whole time with nowhere to hide things get very messy indeed. We watch with an almost sadistic enjoyment as they wade, fall, crawl and struggle through the quagmire.
The lovers’ quarrel is brutal, with friendships pulverised as they tear strips from each other. Hermia - played with a wonderful toughness by Jemima Rooper - has to fight off her lover Lysander, chillingly played by John Dagleish as he looks set to rape her in the woods. Add to this a narcissistic and threatening Demetrius (Oliver Alvin-Wilson) and a degraded and humiliated Helena (Anna Madeley) and it makes for tough viewing.
This has to be the un-funniest Dream I’ve ever seen and when the laughs do come they spring partially from our relief. The Mechanicals bring much-needed humour, however even the laughter here seems cruel. Leo Bell is exceptional as Bottom and is by turns hilarious and grotesque. He delivers an exhausting and demanding performance with complete skill and talent.
These dark elements are clearly there in the story to be explored and exploited. But it comes as a revelation to see a production of the play that’s so grim. However, it comes at a huge expense as nearly all other elements of the play are lost; the magic and comedy have all but disappeared and even the singing by Melanie Pappenheim is sad and mournful.
At two hours with no interval this production is as gruelling for the audience as it is for the actors. They throw absolutely everything at this production with boundless energy and commitment. However, it ultimately remains frustrating knowing how much of the play has been sacrificed along the way.
Rating – 3/5
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
plays at London's Young Vic Theatre until April 1st. For tickets click here
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Words by Matthew Hyde
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