Barbican Theatre, London EC2
Opened 25 April, 2002

** Nice tree, shame about the people and the fairies

It's no surprise that director Richard Jones's C.V. includes a lot of opera: this is a modern-opera vision that smothers the play.

A friend of mine is making his first RSC appearance in this production, and I feel truly sorry for him, because I know that he like several other actors whom I have often seen before is so much better than he is allowed to be here. But no, everything is subordinated to Jones's conception, including Shakespeare. At times you need to remind yourself that this is a comedy: Shakespeare's jokes (and yes, many of them still work four centuries on) are almost all stifled at birth, and sometimes (as in Quince's mis-punctuated prologue to the tradesmen's playlet, and the casting of a black woman as Helena) actually reversed.

On a big black and white set with a shafts-of-light motif and a huge truck that trundles back and forth for no obvious reason, the actors are forced bellow their lines in order that their performances may be as loud and monochrome as the design. Verse and characterisation have to be brutally sacrificed. The forest consists of one silent man in a dark suit with a gnarled-trunk-and-branches headdress; he has some beautiful moments, not least because he is semi-detached from the rest of the farrago.

Written for divento.com

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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