A Midsummer Night's Dreaming in February

Propeller’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was pretty close to a dream come true. This all-male cast, directed by Edward Hall, with design by Michael Pavelka, delivered a production with just the right mix of scholarship, cool, and glitter. The child-like fun and magic of this Dream was balanced by a sophisticated and intelligent interpretation which highlighted the meta-theatrical in Shakespeare’s text.

The ensemble – for this was a consummate ensemble – was clothed in white. Their uniform looked like all-in-one, Victorian, men’s underwear, closely delineating their bodies. Each also wore a corset or stomacher, and their collars and cuffs were trimmed with an Elizabethan touch of lace. Their faces were painted porcelain white, with red lips and clownish, arched eyebrows. These androgenous figures seemed to be undefinable products of the imagination, put perhaps not an imagination wholly belonging to the 21st Century. Like the pierrots of Oh What a Lovely War! these singing, white-clad spectres added costume elements to designate their roles, but their raw state was always clearly visible.

As fairies, though, the ensemble remained unadorned: such stuff, to quote the wrong play, as dreams are made on. They moved as if they were one organism, playfully and delightfully relishing and narrating the action with their bodies. Their movements highlighted by their discordant harmonicas, as if the group were a living accordion, expanding and contracting: living, but only in the sense that a Jan Svankmajer animation lives. The dirty white stage also became an integral part of the ensemble. The set was an almost bare attic, strewn with dust cloths, and lined with rickety furniture, which, with a touch of the uncanny, was at head height, rather than on the ground. This frugal setting became, through the skill of the ensemble, a playground of stories, in which people appeared, transformed, were shrunken, and disappeared altogether.

The women’s parts were tackled refreshingly by this all-male production. In keeping with their theme of transparent artifice, a few skirts were added, but squeaky voices and exaggerated gestures were left in the dressing-up box. Despite this general praise, at times Matthew McPherson’s often enjoyable Hermia bordered on stereotype. His frantic performance sometimes became an exaggerated version of Jack Lemon’s Daphne in Some Like it Hot.  In fairness to McPherson, my judgement here is clouded by a lurking doubt surrounding the role of all-male Shakespeare in the 21st Century. In every other way, the production was excellent, and, we know, “Nobody’s perfect”.

A Midsummer Night's Dream
Image from The Belgrade Theatre website

This fantastic production is still on tour. Follow this link for more details.


Popular Posts