English Shakespeare Company, Midsummer Night’s Dream

Review in Issue 9-1 | Spring 1997

The ESC’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream promises excitement with Phelim McDermott directing, Julian Crouch designing and Nic Freeman providing movement and stilt training. Plus, the company went into rehearsals with only Shakespeare’s text, lots of rolls of sellotape and some baskets to play with.

That this is an unusual interpretation of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy is undeniable. Puck is played as a vindictive imp and Oberon, the king of the fairies, as a malevolent tyrant. Their shaved heads and vocal affectations are reminiscent of Berkoff. By emphasising the darker side of Shakespeare’s fairies, however, Crouch and McDermott strip the text of much of its magic. The monochrome costumes and austere set suggest the tragedies rather than the lightest of Shakespeare’s comedies.

There are some moments of playful transformation, however. The imaginative use of sellotape creates cobwebs and brambles in the forest and in one beautiful scene the woodland fairies become insects with enormous cellophane wings. Crouch and McDermott’s visual inventiveness is finally on display in the ‘play within a play’. It is a shame, however, that we have to wait until so near the end for the full comic potential of the company to come into play.

It is refreshing to see a main stream company attempting a collaborative and playful approach to such traditional theatrical fodder. We are still to wait, however, for a production in which ‘physical theatre techniques are an intrinsic part rather than simply gimmicks which have been grafted-on.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Feb 1997

This article in the magazine

Issue 9-1
p. 25