This conceptually muddled production of Shakespeare’s enduring comedy successfully realises Theseus’s smugly affluent court on the first-floor terrace of the plush Bermondsey Square Hotel, but fudges the crucial distinction between city and countryside.
Problems start with director Jayne Dickinson’s choice of ’70s fashion for every character except the fairies (dressed in standard leotards and leaves). While the look suits the weightless romanticism of the naive lovers, flares bring little to the play’s sharp social divisions.
A bigger issue is Araxie Kutchukian’s gaudy woodland set, which seems more an extension of the court’s sanitised disco-era hedonism than a lawless place of possibility. Consequently, the forest-based nudge-wink slapstick of the braying Bottom and the bewitched teens (of which Lorna Stuart is a refreshingly spunky Helena) raises a smile but lacks edge – a Puck (Peter Steele) who comes across as Ritalin-deprived instead of darkly mischievous doesn’t help.
The good includes Ian Hallard’s fine comic timing as Peter Quince, which turns the Pyramus and Thisbe scenes into more than a protracted Elizabethan in-joke; but such bits don’t quite balance out the drawbacks. Ultimately, this production feels like too much of one world and not enough of another.
First published by Time Out