JOYCE MCMILLAN on TWISTED SHAKESPEARE – A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 1.8.12
3 stars ***
OF ALL SHAKESPEARE’S PLAYS, A Midsummer Night’s Dream probably responds best to being performed in a setting as lush and green as Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens. The play was written early in Shakespeare’s career, when he still seemed to see with the eye of the boy who had spent much of his youth lying around in Warwickshire meadows, drinking in a worm’s-eye view of the myriad wildflowers and insects and spotted snakes around him; so that when Oberon tells us that he knows a bank where the wild thyme blows, we sense that he knows it with a close-up intimacy largely lost to modern city-dwellers.
The Scottish Youth Theatre’s short, wild, inventive promenade production – directed by Fraser MacLeod, and playing in the garden until Saturday – is a little short on the sheer power of Shakespeare’s poetry, and its heady hallucinatory beauty; partly because so much of it is cut, in reducing the play to 90 minutes, and partly because few of the young actors know how to relish it, although Michael Chakraverty’s Oberon shows real promise.
That weakness apart, though, this is a thoroughly entertaining version of the play, which briskly explains Egeus’s parental dislike of Hermia’s fondness for Lysander by making Lysander a girl (hence the young couple’s need to flee to some enlightened place where they can get married), and fills the gardens with teams of cavorting fairies and rude mechanicals, all grooving along to the sound of recorded music played on speakers from a bike trailer decked in greenery. Kenny Miller’s costumes are dazzlingly weird, as all the faery folk wander around in Jarman-esque post-punk gear, like lopsided versions of Queen Elizabeth I and her court; there are black umbrellas with big silver spots strewn everywhere, like giant forest mushrooms under which the lovers sleep, and Titania woos the spell-struck Bottom.
And at the end, despite blustery wind and louring clouds, there’s a lovely, elegant wedding on the green in front of Inverleith House, and a rousing finale by the pond. It’s not subtle, but it’s often magical, and pleasingly strange; and it captures that quality of surreal, left-field imaginative fantasy that is present in all Shakespeare’s pastoral comedies and romances, funny, unpredictable, and as post-modern as if the play had been written yesterday.