Set play

28th September 2001 at 01:00
A Midsummer Night's Dream. By William Shakespeare. Theatre Royal, York.

This play needs little embellishment. We have a story of transformation and reconciliation on a cosmic scale, of conflict and resolution between generations; between the sexes; between mortal and fairy. It is a play of exquisite lyrical and poetic beauty, of great variety and complexity which embraces farce and at the same time explores the mystical nature of creation. Why add more layers when there are layers enough? This is the view of directors Damien Cruden and Lucy Pitman-Wallace. Their inspirational production, in its setting, meticulous choreography and clarity of delivery, allows the language to speak for itself.

"We didn't want to reinvent the wheel. We didn't bring an agenda to the text or contextualise it by setting it in a Victorian Britain; we wanted to retell the story as clearly as we can," says Cruden.

They have brought out the elemental nature of the play through the use of colour, water and light. Against a gauze backdrop, actors are clothed in plain but highly dramatic silks and linens. They wear white while the play remains within the cold aegis of Athenian law; richer colours as we move into the magic of the fairy wood beyond Athens.

Such a device complements the highly visual language of the text. Much of the comic action takes place in and through a pool in the middle of the stage (the wet T-shirt effect writ large) which serves to heighten the sense of confusion and disorder. The parallel dilemmas and interconnection between Theseus and Hippolyta and Oberon and Titania are clearly drawn and, though Hippolyta says least, her silence is pivotal as she watches Theseus struggle to resolve his difficulties: how can he make her love him? How can he unhook Hermia from her father's invocation of ancient law that says she must marry the man of his choice or die?

Andrina Carroll's performance as Hippolyta and Titania is compelling, encompassing in her sensitive delivery the fragility and passionate ferocity of both these characters. Gareth Tudor Price as Oberon and Theseus cleverly conveys the compassionate and controlling characteristics of the fairy king and the duke.

Teachers looking for further support with the play can contact Maggie Goddard, the Theatre Royal's new education officer, who can arrange for actors to visit schools.

Elaine Williams

Tickets: 01904 623568. Performances today and tomorrow, then in rep until November 17. For education programme and workshops, tel: 01904 658162.

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