Dominic Cavendish (The Daily Telegraph) on Dream 03 Mar 2010
A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in the still-cold month of March? Of course. It makes complete sense when you refer to Shakespeare’s text. Doesn’t Titania, queen of the fairies, complain to Oberon that their wrangling has put the seasons out of joint - “Hoary-headed frosts / Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose” - and so on? Nature in the play is all over the place and Andrew Hilton, who’s acquiring so many feathers in his cap as artistic director of Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory that he almost resembles a new species, beautifully serves that integral sense of mayhem and dislocation in a production that tips this way and that between perturbing nightmare and aching dream.
As ever at this address, less is, of necessity, more. The in-the-round staging relies on the venue’s pillars - augmented with ladders - together with an unfurnished acting-area to conjure Athenian court, forest and fairy bower. And yet Hilton is so attentive to the language, and draws such sprightly invention from his actors, that we don’t feel short-changed. Without succumbing to flashy directorial touches, he succeeds in defamiliarising the comedy, false-footing expectations.
Such a simple stroke as the fairies’ use of sunglasses to turn themselves invisible in front of the mortals works wonders, heightening their theatrical playfulness while underscoring the recurrent preoccupation with sight and love-struck blindness, perfection and deformity. Ffion Jolly’s Hermia digs into her character to find petulance and an unlovely propensity for prick-teasing that helps root Lysander’s sudden rejection of her in the rich soil of subconscious vengeance.
Smart comic touches abound. The ‘mechanicals’ initially greet Bottom’s transformation into an ass with matey derision, only gradually succumbing to terror. David Plimmer’s Snug the joiner wanders on and off between scenes, as lost as the lovers, looking for his pals, pathetic in his lion’s costume. The Act V play-within-a-play somehow delivers all the fun of farcical ineptitude without patronising the lowly am-drammers: the sight of Felix Hayes’ Snout sweatily struggling to keep a back-breaking slab of wall balanced on his head, upstaging Pyramus and Thisbe’s tryst on either side of him, is an absolute joy. Yet the mood turns on a sixpence into melancholy and a poignant sense of individual limitation in the face of arbitary, uncontrollable circumstance and time itself.
While this Dream may lack Judi Dench as its Titania, it’s amply imbued with that Dame’s commanding poise and confidence. As Theseus says, “Very notably discharged”.
Susannah Clapp (The Observer) on Dream Sunday 21 February 2010
It seems that Hilton has taken his cue for the evening from a line towards the end of the play when Hermia, waking from the shared nightmare that has blown across the stage, says it is as if she sees double. On a bare stage – the only addition to the structural pillars are ladders, from which the fairies hang to watch the action – the two kingdoms, mortal and fairy, day and night, mimic and shadow one another as if they were distorted variations of each other. It is not only that Theseus and Hippolyta are played by the same actors as Oberon and Titania. Apart from the pairs of young human lovers – who in any case have difficulty telling each other apart – everywhere you look there are doubles. Christopher Staines's disobliging Puck, who glooms around like a surly teenager, is also a slightly sniffy Master of the Revels at the Duke of Athens's court. The mechanicals – who are played carefully, without the condescension that can give the final scene so nasty a taste – double up as fairy followers, lumpily, lumberingly, sometimes touchingly. Jonathan Nibbs's Cobweb knits in a wheelchair; Alan Coveney's Moth is so drawn to the lantern he carries that he keeps banging his nose against it.
The result, utterly free from gauzy frolics, is as often disturbing as it is enticing. Still, throughout, the comedy is quick. Rebecca Pownall's Helena is one long quiver of indignation – each tassel of her flapperish dress shakes in mortification. And the Pyramus and Thisbe scene sports a surprising hero. You couldn't say that Wall steals the show, but it's hard to imagine a funnier barricade than Felix Hayes, who staggers on heaving a block of concrete and sways there, eyes bulging, face flushed. Unable to move his hand to give the lovers a chink through which to whisper, he obliges them to smooch through his braced legs. His feat seems as marvellous as anything the fairies pull off.
Sophie Lomax (Bristol 24-7) on Dream February 19, 2010
This hands-up magical production of A Midsummer Nights Dream might as well come with free 3D glasses on every seat, so urgent and involving is its take on folk lost in a forest at midnight.
Sure, it’s comedy — one of Shakespeare’s rightly most beloved and riddled with double, even treble, entendres. But the fairies here have agendas to pursue and chaos on their minds. They also look like the Pet Shop Boys: little girls looking for wands and sparkles would have nightmares.
It’s the brink of wedding season: Theseus, Duke of Athens, is to marry Amazonian queen Hippolyta. So far, so grand set-piece. In comes nobleman Egeus, full of didactic pique, asserting ancient Athenian paternal rights when daughter Hermia threatens to uncouple the arranged marriage he’s set up. Faced with the alternatives offered by Theseus – imminent death or incarceration in a nunnery – Hermia makes the only sensible choice for a teenager in besotted mode — elope with boho-rebel, Lysander.
The young whippersnappers are beset variously by thwarted love and unrequited passions. There’s Helena too, played fizzily and desperately by Rebecca Pownall, in hot pursuit of Demetrius, whom Egeus plans for Hermia to marry. They soon all become tangled up like Granny’s knitting, lost in a peculiar midnight-soaked forest filled with the havoc-wreaking, renegade Puck, who is given jumpy rein by Christopher Staines, seemingly able to play any instrument under the moon. When the fairies meddle with everyone’s affections using mind-altering ‘love juice’, rivers of tears are inevitable.
Into this emotional whirlpool jump the ‘rude mechanicals’, rehearsing their play for Theseus. Director Andrew Hilton puts a characteristically deceptive simple spin on their cavorting and the result is fine humour thousands of miles from the labourers’ pantomime often churned out in productions.
Chris Donnelly, as Bottom, is wholly endearing — he can be tall only on tiptoe – but his brief flirtation with becoming an ass and lover of enchanted fairy queen Titania is suddenly unsettling in its intensity and he’s all the more convincing for it.
Harriet de Winton’s design, with costumes spanning centuries and including a lovely small, blue-faced puppet, has a sharp cohesiveness which belongs to the Dream‘s own near-perfect construction. Patent brogues jostle with sunglasses, Vuitton-esque mouse ears and one mightily effective appearance of deely boppers, those brilliant bug antennae on headbands, sported by Alan Coveney playing a twitchy, elegant mechanical Robin Starveling.
It’s comic mayhem, heart-splitting loneliness and a sharp lesson in class politics all rolled into one.
Waves of applause engulfed the 2010 cast of the Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory company; and rightly so.
Matt Whittle (Suit yourself magazine) on Dream
'The fresh approach is immediately obviously in the show’s design; no leafy or mossy beds, no pointed ears, twisting branches or overgrown vegetation here, the enchanted forest our characters get lost in is a dark, urban one: Trees are reborn as proud metallic ladders and the fairy monarchs sport leathers, steel toe-capped boots and decorative metal plates. It effectively conjures the sinister potential of the forest but is also used well to harness the show’s playful charm.'
Lyn Gardner (The Guardian) on Dream Friday 19 February 2010
When Quince and the other mechanicals first catch sight of Bottom wearing an ass's head, they laugh. But when they fail to remove it, laughter turns to panic as they struggle to escape through a wild wood that seems to laugh as they flee.
It's a lovely moment in this loveliest of revivals. It's possible to see at least four productions of Shakespeare's play this month, and inevitably Peter Hall's revival with Judi Dench has grabbed the headlines. But if you want to see Shakespeare's play at its freshest and funniest, you should head straight to Bristol, where Andrew Hilton produces low-budget Shakespeare with a consistency that must make the RSC weep.
Hilton plays out the drama on the barest of stages that suggests that the forest outside Athens is as much a state of mind as a real place. The costumes offer visual references to the play's Elizabethan antecedents, and the very modern sprites sport shades, as if the mafia had got a toehold on fairyland.
As ever, it is the attention to detail that makes this sing so true. Right from the start it is clear that the threat to Hermia, if she does not renounce her love for Lysander and marry her father's choice, Demetrius, is very real indeed. Not just happiness, but lives are at stake here. The sexual and emotional tensions of those at court and living in or passing through the wood are intricately stitched together. This is a Dream that is wistful and sexy, with a wild pagan heart beating beneath its formal exterior. There are some blissfully funny moments, including a Snout who plays Wall with glorious anguish. The major players are spot-on, too, in an evening genuinely touched by magic.