Erotic dream;Set Play;Theatre

26th March 1999 at 00:00
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon.

Michael Boyd has the best possible reason for wanting to direct A Midsummer Night's Dream. "I did it years ago in Sheffield and hugely enjoyed it," he says.

Like most Royal Shakespeare Company directors, he wants to approach the play without preconceptions, allowing his production to be shaped by the interplay of actors and text. But he is firm on what his audiences will not see. "It won't be a decorative, picturesque dream world, or about public-school lovers with no sexual organs."

So the play's eroticism will be given full weight. Oberon's fairies are all male and Titania's all female. Boyd's staging sounds like a reworking of Lysistrata: "Just as Titania has refused Oberon her bed, so that diktat runs all through the fairy world. The wood will be full of sexual tension." With Josette Simon doubling as Titania and Hippolyta, that erotic charge is sure to be delivered in full measure. Boyd says: "She's dead sexy, and very commanding."

Boyd is too young to have seen Peter Brook's legendary 1971 production, but the simplicity of Brook's design is echoed in his set. "It's a space for playfulness, very simple, a wooden O, or rather a wooden oval, a white box, but not like the Globe." Costumes will be contemporary, not a farthingale in sight.

Boyd wants a strong sense of the play's social world to shine through. "It won't remind you of a mythical Athens, but of a fundamentalist society in the vice-like grip of puritanism and arranged marriage. That's the world Shakespeare was exploring," he says. To intensify the pervasive unease in this rigidly controlled society, Boyd has the mechanicals on stage in the first scene to witness Hermia's trial. "That gives genuine apprehension to their later 'That would hang us, every mother's son'."

Boyd underlines the affinities of the three worlds of the play - court, fairies, mechanicals. He says: "The stage floorboards blossom as the fairy world is entered, and the angry father Egeus turns up as one of Oberon's menacing fairies, encountering his daughter that night in the wood in a very different way." In this play so utterly concerned with transformation, it's a dramatically effective way of showing that the population of Athens undergoes change.

The theme of transformation is also central to Boyd's view of Puck and Bottom. "Puck is resolutely irresponsible. He's got that mercurial, chameleon ability to move from rage to destructiveness to absolute charm at the flick of an eyelid." And Bottom's "translation"? Boyd is keeping that secret, but it promises to be a memorable moment of theatre.

Tickets: 01789 295623

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