Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been given a bit of a makeover in a daring and captivating new production at the Young Vic.
Directed by Joe Hill-Gibbins, who was responsible for the Waterloo theatre’s dark take on Macbeth, itself an already dark tale, and equally sinister Edward II at the National a few years ago, it takes the audience through a nightmare rather than a fairy dream.
For in this production, it is much more of a nightmare. Played out with a mirror at the back of a stage made entirely of rough earth and mud Glastonbury style, the characters run, walk and stumble about getting caked in the stuff as they try and get out of the situations they find themselves in.
It is actually brilliantly done and a refreshing take on the play which is normally fun, full of light and very funny.
But while there is humour in this it is dark and forboding. Even the quartet of lovers don’t seem to enjoy the positive passions of love and Lysander is particularly and surprisingly violent in his advances towards Hermia when they are in the woods. Not only does he try and force himself on her he also then tells her vehemently after having been drugged by Puck that he hates her. Slowly we see her crushed so that by the end she is no longer the feisty woman she once was.
In fact, in this interpretation, Hill-Gibbins shows us that actually within the text there is danger, terror and violence in the play - even Titania is not without a violent and nasty streak to her - and that it is not sweetness and light.
The cast is top notch with some stand out performances most notably Anastasia Hille who takes on both Titania and Hippolyta and Lloyd Hutchinson who as Puck, is not a nimble sprite but a lumbering servant of Oberon who amuses us as he clearly can’t be bothered to do his master’s bidding.
The mechanicals get most of the laughs and Leo Bill is terrific as Bottom. In his grotesque transformation, and cavorting around the stage at full pelt before he too falls victim to the boggy nature of it, he also conveys the horror in which he finds himself.
At the end, the cast find the mirror at the back of the stage has been painted black making it impossible to escape the nightmare.
Shakespeare was right - the course of true love never did run smooth - and this production surely shows that.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is on at the Young Vic until April 1. Tickets from £10. Visit www.youngvic.org or call the box office on 020 7922 2922 for full listings.