Thursday, 21 June 2012


Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park

20 June 2012

Director: Matthew Dunster
Talent: Rebecca Oldfield
It didn't bode well.  The set was a portakabin, a dull caravan, and off to the side a white van.  There was a crane.  In front and around all this there was a great deal of pre-curtain improv business, with tremendous Acting going on all over the place as the cast pretended to be workers on a building site.  A cement mixer disappeared off stage here, and came back on over there.  And once the play started it was clear that Theseus was going to be a bad guy, the director presumably having studied the play at polytechnic, where he was doubtlessly told that despite all evidence to the contrary the Dream is actually a dark play about patriarchal oppression etc. with a few light bits thrown in for the ignorant paying audience.  We knew Theseus was a bad guy because he shouted "Oi".  Whether he was supposed to be the site foreman, a local gangster, a member of the country gentry or perhaps a unreconstructed ex-rock star was never made clear.  However, by the end of this intellectually vapid production it was impossible not to have had My Big Fat Gipsy Wedding introduced into your aching head, whether you've seen that telly programme or not (I haven't).  So perhaps he was supposed to be a senior male Gipsy, always an easy target.
As it happens, in the first half, thanks to some fine performances, Shakespeare survived most of what the director threw at him, and indeed there was some nifty and unexpected stage business that transformed portakabin Athens into a wood.  The fairies were excellent, Titania herself outstanding (Tamsin Carroll), and Oberon not far behind.  Generally the fairy business tends to get in the way in productions as though the director is embarrassed by it.  Here, to do the director credit, the fairies more than stood up for themselves, providing a proper contrast with the foolish humans.
The mechanicals were fine.  I've seen much funnier. Flute (Rolan Bell) was the pick and Bottom disappointing.  What was new, to me at any rate, was the number of laughs to be squeezed out of the lovers.  Both the girls were very good, but especially Helena (Rebecca Oldfield) who was outstanding, and it was generally agreed that she won the Man of the Match award. 
SS and NM left at half time.  SS had "got it" and therefore did not need to see more, and NM was getting a little chilly.  It turned out that they did exactly the right thing, as the second half was a shambles.  For reasons obviously too advanced for simple-minded members of the audience to understand, the rustics' play was done in song, and followed by a medley of dance numbers, with a bit of light show thrown in.  Not even Shakespeare could survive this onslaught of the crass and vulgar, and so we were left with the memory of a good first half, the play triumphing over the production thanks to good acting, finally besmirched by mere entertainment (the director attempting to balance this with a fatuously overweighted Theseus-Hippolyta sub-plot).
The truth is, I am glad I saw it.  Despite the fact that I felt spat at, felt Shakespeare spat at, felt the actors spat at, I enjoyed lots of it, and Rebecca Oldfield is the Helena against which all subsequent Helenas shall be measured.

1 comment:

  1. That was good. I enjoyed reading it!