A Midsummer Night's Dream, Norwich

CHARLES ROBERTS Shakespeare's frolic in the Athenian woods is a play which lends itself to innovation and fun, and, in this Royal Shakespeare Company production, director Richard Jones has stretched the possibilities to their wacky limits.

CHARLES ROBERTS

Shakespeare's frolic in the Athenian woods is a play which lends itself to innovation and fun, and, in this Royal Shakespeare Company production, director Richard Jones has stretched the possibilities to their wacky limits.

It is funny and entertaining, full of quirkily comic moments and zany visual gags, and played out against sets of disarming simplicity which at the same time are infinitely variable. All this appealed mightily to a full-house audience which, last night at the Theatre Royal, satisfyingly included many young people. Indeed youth is the key, for this view of The Dream breathes young ideas, projected through a largely very young company.

Yet for all its virtues, it is perhaps too clever for its own good. For such is the focus on gags, both spoken and visual, that that good old theatrical essential of speech technique gets more than a little neglected. There is so much high-register projection, so much yelling at the sky and tearing of passions to tatters – particularly from the quartet of young lovers – that one longs for an infusion of vocal variety in pitch and colour. Instead too many words are shrilly lost altogether, and just as many robbed of their shades of meaning.

Peter Lindford, as Duke Theseus, offers the other side of the coin: an interpretation of maturity, strength and presence, which is yet elegantly relaxed. All come together to guide both the physicality of his approach and the effortless colour and chest notes which make his realisation of the poetry such a consistent pleasure.

Then there is Tim McMullan as Oberon, king of the fairies, in an interpretation which in spirit has the feel of Ireland, of the lyricism of J M Synge. His is a voice which increasingly exerts a spell over his listeners, and none more so than in the beauty with which he invests that lovely speech toward the close: “Her dotage now I do begin to pity.”

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Dominic Cooper, as his spirit servant, Puck, is a young actor of physical beauty and grace, matched by a voice of smooth control and texture. Visual charm and pleasing character drawing attend the lovesome foursome, Hermia (Gabrielle Jourdan), Lysander (Michael Colgan), Demetrius (Paul Chequer) and Helena (Nikki Amuka-Bird) – but oh, those flying, out-of-control voices merit some attention.

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