Wednesday, June 22, 2016



at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich


Stars and portents align to celebrate the Wolsey's 15th birthday year. Opening on Midsummer Night, 400 years after Shakespeare's death, this Dream brings Trevor Nunn back to his home town, where he saw his first ever Shakespeare [the Dream, of course] at the age of 12. And it means he's now directed, in his long and illustrious career, every one of the 37 plays.
We're in 1930s India, the height of the Raj, with the Duke as the Viceroy. It's a concept that fits beautifully, intellectually as well as artistically.
It makes sense of Hermia's forced marriage, for one thing. There's a wonderfully telling moment as Pyramus & Thisbe ends, and Bottom explains that the wall is down that parted their fathers.
It seems the norm now to airbrush Athens out of the text, but otherwise Shakespeare's words survive intact, if trimmed a little, and the verse is universally well spoken.
Matt Rawle and Fiona Hampton are the upper-crust couple – he sports a pith helmet for the hunt - and also of course Oberon and Titania. Sam Dastor is excellent as Egeus, the old-fashioned father of the bride, and Michelle Bishop manages a unique double as First Fairy and Phyllis [ … straight …], aide to Theseus, and the only character to change name or gender.
The colourful Fairy Band, moving expressively in the background, are children – casting which would not look out of place in Irving's Lyceum. By contrast the Indian Boy, bone of contention between the Fairy King and Queen, wears a plain white costume.
The quartet of lovers are superbly done – Neerja Naik is poor Hermia, Assad Zaman her Demetrius. Harry Lister Smith, in his wonderful cream Brideshead suit, is a very posh Lysander, and Imogen Daines is a hilarious “maypole” Helena, drinking and smoking as she's rejected. Act III scene 2 – another part of the wood, and the opening of Part Two in this production – is brilliantly choreographed, from the moment when Esh Alladi's lithe Puck and Oberon glide into hiding to Hermia's bemused exit.
The Rude Mechanicals are itinerant tradesman, each bringing the tools of his trade. The absent Weaver, for example, is represented by a bobbin of scarlet thread on a mat, possibly of his own making. Kulvinder Ghir makes a wonderful Bottom: his “dream” monologue is exemplary, his warm-up before the rehearsal a delight. Muzz Khan is a gormless Starveling, his Moon waning as Ghir's operatic Pyramus milks his big scene. And Deven Modha's Flute brings real feeling to his Thisbe, quietly out-performing the blustering Bottom.
Libby Watson's design is glorious – the gorgeous palace, the deep dark wood, the pastoral patchwork of fields suggesting Puck's flight – and splendidly lit by Mark Jonathan – Titania's bower backlit by moonlight.
We're spoilt for Dreams this year – on the BBC, at the RSC, in the Globe. This provincial wonder is probably the most important, and certainly one of the most deliciously enjoyable.

production photo by Mike Kwasniak

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