Skip to content

Midsummer Night’s Dream in Kew Gardens

August 19, 2021

It occurred to me very early on in this production that Kew Gardens should host a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream every single year. There is, of course, no need of scenery and as the play proceeds, the performance space darkens naturally and fireflies come out to dance appropriately.

This is, after all, a very botanical play – a play in which the naming of rare and exotic plants is central to much of the delight of the most memorable poetry. Watching this play in Kew Gardens makes the production of wondrous and rare herbs in a matter of minutes look very plausible.

Whenever this vigorous production with a young cast from the Australian Shakespeare Company indulged this botanic verse, thereby empowering the physical setting, the effect was magical. Basically – anything involving fairies was good. Anything involving fairies allowed the poetry to relax and be properly expansive. Titania’s longest speech about the sheer environmental havoc being wrought by her marital quarrel with Oberon is sometimes hacked apart by nervous and impatient directors or sometimes smothered with mood music but here it was delivered in a stately and commanding fashion by Monica Nash.

Incidentally, isn’t Oberon one of the most horrific characters in Shakespeare when you stop and think about it?

“OK – I was annoyed with you about the pretty boy we both wanted so I slipped you some dangerous drugs and made you have sex with a donkey monster. But hey – no hard feelings?!”

But of course, you shouldn’t stop and think about it. Not in real time. You should only think about it afterwards.

The idea of doubling Theseus and Oberon and Hippolyta is well established. This production also doubled three of the four aristocratic lovers with three of the rude mechanicals – with the result that only Theseus and Hyppolita could watch the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe.

I will confess now that I was sobbing at the beginning of the play when Grace Holroyd (Hermia) appeared. I think it was this week’s big news headline. The idea of a woman’s right to choose being curtailed by a deathly patriarchal edict made my face leak unstoppably. However, the essentially irreverent quality of the show did not permit the indulgence of tears for very long at time.

The whole direction of the this production is predicated on the idea that the aristocratic lovers on the run are just as silly as the mechanicals. There is an attractively egalitarian dimension to this decision though it does mean that the most special moment of the play for me was lost in slapstick.

Because there is no more passionate declaration of (same sex) love in all of Shakespeare than Helena’s bitter rebuke to Hermia. As Helena begs Helena to recall how much they have meant to one another – the heteronormative grammar of the plotting seems to evaporate and Demetrius and Lysander both blur into into irrelevance. I want to hear this speech given its due and I want to cry a little every time I hear it.

Injurious Hermia, most ungrateful maid,
Have you conspired, have you with these contrived,
To bait me with this foul derision?
Is all the counsel that we two have shared,
The sisters’ vows, the hours that we have spent
When we have chid the hasty-footed time
For parting us—O, is all forgot?
All schooldays’ friendship, childhood innocence?
We, Hermia, like two artificial gods,
Have with our needles created both one flower,
Both on one sampler, sitting on one cushion,
Both warbling of one song, both in one key,
As if our hands, our sides, voices, and minds
Had been incorporate. So we grew together
Like to a double cherry, seeming parted,
But yet an union in partition,
Two lovely berries molded on one stem;
So with two seeming bodies but one heart,
Two of the first, like coats in heraldry,
Due but to one, and crownèd with one crest.
And will you rent our ancient love asunder,
To join with men in scorning your poor friend?
It is not friendly; ’tis not maidenly.
Our sex, as well as I, may chide you for it,
Though I alone do feel the injury.

The relentless pace and business of this production did not permit this speech to tug at the heartstrings as it should. This was emphatically not the fault of Larissa Teale who did what she could with the speech under the pressure of the direction. She managed to get the right level of outrage with “join with MEN” to denote that Hermia’s betrayal is not just an individual breach of loving troth but a betrayal of the sisterhood also.

But the speech was essentially lost and I will to need (relatively soon) see another production of Midsummer Night’s Dream to get it back.

And obviously an excess of modern interpolations chafes me – as does the recitation of house rules in cod couplets. The business involving the mechanicals ended up being over-extended and some visual jokes were flogged to death. Mohsen Ghaffari was, meanwhile, a fine Nick Bottom – a delicious mixture of irritant and innocent, a creature who is and is not pretentious at the same time.

So, clowning too often won out at the expense of poetry so it’s wah wah wah from me, obviously. But more importantly, vastly more importantly, this was a production seen by children. Many children. Young children. And they were transfixed throughout. It’s a statistical certainty that this would have been the first experience of Shakespeare for many of them. Ain’t that more important? Better I miss out on some optimal cadencing than have these precious younglings come away with anything other than undiluted joy.

From → Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: