At last we can use the old schoolboy Shakespeare joke: Dawn French shows us her Bottom! But the production is pointlessly gimmicky.
Director Matthew Francis has set the play in a 1940s country house, so that the lovers Lysander and Demetrius are servicemen, Duke Theseus the local aristo, and the "rude mechanicals" WVS volunteers. It's an imaginative stroke, but one can't see any real reason for it; only when the action moves into the woods does it hit its stride. Similarly, why change the mechanicals into women – all except for one man, who is then cast in their play-within-the-play in the only female role? Obviously, it allows French to play a role that otherwise never have been open to her. And she is exceptionally talented at the kind of enthusiastic galumphing central to the character of Bottom. Even here, though, the production goes too far: in order for Titania's love for the transformed Bottom to be straight rather than sapphic, Mrs Bottom has to be equipped as a fairy prank not just with ass's ears but, well, "hung like a donkey" as well. There are enough bawdy gags in this play already, if you look for them (which Francis doesn't), without needing to create more. As the general remarked on seeing one of the first tanks, "C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre."
Written for divento.com
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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