A Midsummer Night's Dream

24th March 2000 at 00:00
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory

The name of the company includes its venue, a century-old Bristol tobacco factory, the first floor of which has been converted into a studio theatre. The audience is arranged on either side of the stage, so that no-one is more than 20 feet from the action. It is here that Andrew Hilton, the artistic director, presents his Dream.

"It is not set in classical Athens but in 1600 or thereabouts, in full Elizabethan costume," he says, "and that includes the fairy worlds. They represent an alternative court rather than floaty things."

As has become the custom, the actors playing Oberon and Titania double as Duke Theseus and Hippolyta. "I'm convinced that that's what the great man had in mind. Oberon and Titania represent a version of the history of Theseus and Hippolyta - the wars they've come through, the strife, are recaptured and given vitality by Oberon and Titania."

Hilton once played Theseus and is unusually interested in how his character can be understood. "It's always a mystery who the man is, whether he's a flat-footed sceptic or a kind of Prospero, whether he knows what's going on."

Hilton has decided that Theseus takes action quite deliberately: that his threat to banish Hermia to a nunnery on his own wedding day is definitely "setting something up", orchestrating a train of events. "It may relate to the argument about what the play was written for. It is supposed among some academics that it was for an aristocratic wedding, in which case itfunctioned as an epitha-lamium, partly to praise and honour the bride and groom. And that refers to Theseus and Hippolyta, no one else. What could be more flattering than for Theseus to be a 'maker'?" Hilton agrees that the play is about rites of passage, "about love seen in the context of development, growth and change". He particularly admires Demetrius' speech about love. "He's gone through a rite of passage, albeit with magic in his eyes."

Oberon's behaviour towards Titania, tricking her into loving an ass, can seem cruel. "One hopes he learns some humility. We pick up the fact that she survives it in the celebratory dance in the final scene when Hippolyta dances with Bottom."

As for the Mechanicals, the workmen who present the play-within-a-play to the court: "We are trying very hard to present six real men who are working enormously hard grappling with how to present fiction. It's easy to make Pyramus and Thisbe a series of gags. We're hoping to take it a stage further through the unexpected skill of Flute. Suddenly his performance finds some passion. Shakespeare could have written a much worse play and it's better than a lot of writing at the time. Peter Quince has done a pretty decent job. Of course, there are infelicities, like 'eyes as green as leeks'."

Hilton sums up his production: "The world of our play is both a real place and a psychological one where people lose their grip and their sureness and, cast adrift, have to rediscover themselves."

Until April 8. For tickets call: 07989 468584

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