With the whole cast of 14 on stage for the full two hours of this production, and with it taking place on a stage full of mud, you’d be forgiven for thinking this play was set on the last day of Glastonbury.
Director Joe Hill-Gibbins has made a rod for his own back with this claggy backdrop, laid out on a large semi-circular stage which opens to a full circle due to clever use of mirrors. The Dream should be ethereal, full of fairies mucking about with mortals, flitting here and there in the starry summer sky.
But on Johannes Schutz’s set the cast have to physically haul themselves everywhere, dragging their all too corporeal flesh through the mire. It’s murky, it’s confusing, it’s obfuscating.
A fine cast of players (who, by the end of the run, will have calves like knotted sheets) is squandered in an ironically rushed-feeling production, although the time drags interminably while viewing. I took to doodling the figures slapped down in the clayey field, as no character was given sufficient time or breathing space to develop into a rounded person I cared about even a little. The lovers are sketched out minimally: some of the Rude Mechanicals have just a couple of lines.
And is this play funny? Bottom’s line of “I’d rather have a handful of dried peas” got huge guffaws on press night, although I’m pretty sure not many in the audience could have told quite what was so funny about it.
At the end of the two hours, everyone is coated in mud. Leaving the theatre, I had a similar feeling. Nothing was clear, nothing was clean, nothing felt uplifting. And that’s not really how I want a piece to make me feel.
Review by Kat Pope