15 Jul A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Directed by Andrew Hilton
11 February – 20 March 2010
Production Photos © 2010 Farrows Creative
Theseus & Oberon Jay Villiers
Hippolyta & Titania Amy Rockson
Philostrate & Puck Christopher Staines
Egeus, Starveling & Moth Alan Coveney
Hermia Ffion Jolly
Lysander Jack Hardwick
Demetrius Benjamin Askew
Helena Rebecca Pownall
Quince & Cobweb Jonathan Nibbs
Bottom Chris Donnelly
Snug & Fairy David Plimmer
Flute & Peaseblossom Byron Mondahl
Snout & Mustardseed Felix Hayes
1st Fairy Nadia Williams
2nd Fairy Kay Zimmerman
Director Andrew Hilton
Assistant Director Hannah Drake
Set & Costume Designer Harriet de Winton
Costume Supervisor Rosalind Marshall
Composer & Sound Designer Elizabeth Purnell
Choreographer Kay Zimmerman
Lighting Designer Tim Streader
Production Manager Jo Cuthbert
Stage Manager Polly Meech
Deputy Stage Manager Eleanor Dixon
Assistant Stage Manager Rachel Isaacs
ASM on Placement from BOVTS Greg Skipworth
Costume Maintenance Sophie Borton
Costume Laundry Kim Winter
★★★★ The Sunday Times Andrew Hilton directs this play as if it had never been played before: his production has a freshness, a boisterous energy, a tone of loving mockery and a sense of humour that ranges from biting to enchanting. It’s a dream play about dreams and dreamers; and, at the end, like Caliban in The Tempest, you almost cry to dream again. It’s also the best and most hilarious play ever written about the theatre: it tells you more about actors and acting than Hamlet’s elegant speech to the players. The performances are polished, with a tempo like music, and the actors play together with a sense of intimacy, like a chamber orchestra. Jay Villiers is a stately, music-loving Theseus and a suave, dangerous Oberon; Amy Rockson … is regally sexy as Hippolyta and Titania. The mechanicals are earnest middle-aged men in worn suits, straight out of northern working-men’s clubs, and their palpable-gross play is one of the funniest ever. John Peter
The Observer … She [Susan Salmon, the Hippolyta in Peter Hall’s production at the Rose, Kingston] could learn from the mellowness that Amy Rockson gives the same part in Andrew Hilton’s inventive, coherent, crystally spoken production of the play at Bristol’s Tobacco Factory. It seems that Hilton has taken his cue for the evening from a line towards the end of the play when Hermia, waking from the shared nightmare that has blown across the stage, says it is as if she sees double. On a bare stage – the only addition to the structural pillars are ladders, from which the fairies hang to watch the action – the two kingdoms, mortal and fairy, day and night, mimic and shadow one another as if they were distorted variations of each other. It is not only that Theseus and Hippolyta are played by the same actors as Oberon and Titania. Apart from the pairs of young human lovers – who in any case have difficulty telling each other apart – everywhere you look there are doubles. Christopher Staines’s disobliging Puck, who glooms around like a surly teenager, is also a slightly sniffy Master of the Revels at the Duke of Athens’s court. The mechanicals – who are played carefully, without the condescension that can give the final scene so nasty a taste – double up as fairy followers, lumpily, lumberingly, sometimes touchingly. Jonathan Nibbs’s Cobweb knits in a wheelchair; Alan Coveney’s Moth is so drawn to the lantern he carries that he keeps banging his nose against it.
The result, utterly free from gauzy frolics, is as often disturbing as it is enticing. Still, throughout, the comedy is quick. Rebecca Pownall’s Helena is one long quiver of indignation – each tassel of her flapperish dress shakes in mortification. And the Pyramus and Thisbe scene sports a surprising hero. You couldn’t say that Wall steals the show, but it’s hard to imagine a funnier barricade than Felix Hayes, who staggers on heaving a block of concrete and sways there, eyes bulging, face flushed. Unable to move his hand to give the lovers a chink through which to whisper, he obliges them to smooch through his braced legs. His feat seems as marvellous as anything the fairies pull off. Susannah Clapp
★★★★ The Guardian When Quince and the other mechanicals first catch sight of Bottom wearing an ass’s head, they laugh. But when they fail to remove it, laughter turns to panic as they struggle to escape through a wild wood that seems to laugh as they flee.
It’s a lovely moment in this loveliest of revivals. It’s possible to see at least four productions of Shakespeare’s play this month, and inevitably Peter Hall’s revival with Judi Dench has grabbed the headlines. But if you want to see Shakespeare’s play at its freshest and funniest, you should head straight to Bristol, where Andrew Hilton produces low-budget Shakespeare with a consistency that must make the RSC weep.
Hilton plays out the drama on the barest of stages that suggests that the forest outside Athens is as much a state of mind as a real place. The costumes offer visual references to the play’s Elizabethan antecedents, and the very modern sprites sport shades, as if the mafia had got a toehold on fairyland.
Christopher Staines as Puck
As ever, it is the attention to detail that makes this sing so true. Right from the start it is clear that the threat to Hermia, if she does not renounce her love for Lysander and marry her father’s choice, Demetrius, is very real indeed. Not just happiness, but lives are at stake here. The sexual and emotional tensions of those at court and living in or passing through the wood are intricately stitched together. This is a Dream that is wistful and sexy, with a wild pagan heart beating beneath its formal exterior. There are some blissfully funny moments, including a Snout who plays Wall with glorious anguish. The major players are spot-on, too, in an evening genuinely touched by magic. Lyn Gardner
★★★★ The Daily Telegraph ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in the still-cold month of March? Of course. It makes complete sense when you refer to Shakespeare’s text. Doesn’t Titania, queen of the fairies, complain to Oberon that their wrangling has put the seasons out of joint – “Hoary-headed frosts / Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose” – and so on? Nature in the play is all over the place and Andrew Hilton, who’s acquiring so many feathers in his cap as artistic director of Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory that he almost resembles a new species, beautifully serves that integral sense of mayhem and dislocation in a production that tips this way and that between perturbing nightmare and aching dream.
As ever at this address, less is, of necessity, more. The in-the-round staging relies on the venue’s pillars – augmented with ladders – together with an unfurnished acting-area to conjure Athenian court, forest and fairy bower. And yet Hilton is so attentive to the language, and draws such sprightly invention from his actors, that we don’t feel short-changed. Without succumbing to flashy directorial touches, he succeeds in defamiliarising the comedy, false-footing expectations.
Such a simple stroke as the fairies’ use of sunglasses to turn themselves invisible in front of the mortals works wonders, heightening their theatrical playfulness while underscoring the recurrent preoccupation with sight and love-struck blindness, perfection and deformity. Ffion Jolly’s Hermia digs into her character to find petulance and an unlovely propensity for prick-teasing that helps root Lysander’s sudden rejection of her in the rich soil of subconscious vengeance.
Smart comic touches abound. The ‘mechanicals’ initially greet Bottom’s transformation into an ass with matey derision, only gradually succumbing to terror. David Plimmer’s Snug the joiner wanders on and off between scenes, as lost as the lovers, looking for his pals, pathetic in his lion’s costume. The Act V play-within-a-play somehow delivers all the fun of farcical ineptitude without patronising the lowly am-drammers: the sight of Felix Hayes’ Snout sweatily struggling to keep a back-breaking slab of wall balanced on his head, upstaging Pyramus and Thisbe’s tryst on either side of him, is an absolute joy. Yet the mood turns on a sixpence into melancholy and a poignant sense of individual limitation in the face of arbitrary, uncontrollable circumstance and time itself.
While this Dream may lack Judi Dench as its Titania, it’s amply imbued with that Dame’s commanding poise and confidence. As Theseus says, “Very notably discharged”. Dominic Cavendish
For A Midsummer Night’s Dream Shakespeare drew on classical myth and on British and European folklore, to create a largely original story that interweaves both elements, bringing classical gods to an English forest, and English artisans to an aristocratic wedding in Athens.
The play is no mere fairy story, nor an excuse for a pantomime rendition of ‘the lamentable comedy’ of Pyramus and Thisbe. Shakespeare explores the crazy illogic – the ‘madness’ as Rosalind calls it in As You Like It – of sexual love, and the volatility of the imagination, through the metaphor of a haunted midnight forest which lies outside the reach of Athenian civilities and the searching light of day. That we are all at sometime in our lives blind Cupid’s playthings, lost in a maze of our own passions, underscores all of Shakespeare’s work; a fount of delight and laughter, danger and misery in almost equal measure.
His original audience would have reflected the debates within the play. Some would have believed wholeheartedly in the existence of fairies; some would not. Of the believers, a few might have regarded them as harmless; many more would have feared them as mischievous or worse – as child-stealers, or as agents of the Devil comparable in power to witches. As we see them here in this celebratory play, Shakespeare’s fairies are unusually benevolent, yet they retain their connection with darker and more chaotic forces – their potential to wreck harvests and overturn the natural seasons, or to blight the marriage bed with the ‘blots of nature’s hand’.
Shakespeare calls the play a ‘dream’, though in formal terms it is not. The lovers’ stories do not begin with a falling asleep, though they do conclude with a waking. The collision of the conscious and the unconscious is fluid, without boundaries. Even who is dreaming is open to question. Is it the four lovers? Is it Theseus? Is it Hippolyta? Is it us?
Or is ‘dream’ just another word for ‘fancy’ – the poet’s imagining that is at once so potent and yet so insubstantial, like theatre itself … ?
Some People of the Play …
Duke Theseus is a controversial character from classical legend. He was credited as the creator of the Athenian commonwealth, as a just and bold innovator, relinquishing royal power in favour of the rule of law. On the other hand he was censured as a serial womaniser, even rapist. Most famously, he bravely entered the Cretan labyrinth to slay the Minotaur, the half-man, half bull that fed on human flesh. He is sometimes recorded as having defeated the Amazons in battle (perhaps with the implication that he took their Queen as a spoil of war), sometimes that the war ended in a truce, sealed – or even prompted – by the spark of love between him and Hippolyta. Below we quote from Plutarch’s Life of Theseus, possibly the main source for Shakespeare’s idea of the man.
Jay Villiers as Theseus & Amy Rockson as Hippolyta
Hippolyta is credited in Rowe’s 1709 edition of Shakespeare as ‘Queen of the Amazons’, a title accepted by most modern editions of the play. In other versions of the myth it is her sister, Antiope, who married Theseus. Hippolyta and Theseus have a son Hippolytus, with whom Theseus’ next wife, Phaedra, falls in love, provoking one of the most famous of all dramatic tragedies.
Oberon was almost certainly discovered by Shakespeareas a three-foot fairy with the face of an angel in the anonymous romance, Huon of Bordeaux, translated into English in the 1530s.
Titania may have got her name from Ovid’s account (in Book 3 of his Metamorphoses) of Actaeon’s fateful meeting with the goddess Diana, for whom ‘Titania’ is a poetic alternative; but her creation as a queen in the fairy world is Shakespeare’s own. Her connection to Diana, the Goddess of Chastity, links her to the moon, a powerful presence and symbol in the play. Arthur Golding’s Elizabethan translation of the Metamorphoses – which Shakespeare used repeatedly – does not use the name Titania, suggesting that Shakespeare had also read the work in the Latin original.
Puck is an amalgam of various folk traditions – with a touch of the blind god Cupid for good measure. Shakespeare took what was a generic name for a mischievous fairy sprite, or small devil and shape-changer and made him one of his most famous characters. His alternative name, Robin Goodfellow, comes from another folk tradition and serves, in the play, to reinforce his mercurial nature. He was a popular figure in the literature of the time. Below we quote from a ballad commonly – though by no means certainly – attributed to Ben Jonson.
Some Sources …
from Plutarch’s ‘The Life of Theseus’ in the Elizabethan translation by Sir Thomas North (abbreviated)
… [Theseus] brought all the inhabitants of the whole province of Attica to be within the city of Athens, and made them all one corporation, which were before dispersed into diverse villages, and by reason thereof were very hard to be assembled together, when occasion was offered to establish any order concerning the common state. Many times also they were at variance together, making wars one upon an other. But Theseus tooke the pains to go from village to village, and from family to family, to let them understand the reasons why they should consent unto it. So he found the poor people and private men, ready to obey and follow his will: but the rich, and such as had authority in every village, all against it. Nevertheles he won them, promising that it should be a common wealth, and not subject to the power of any sole prince, but rather a populer state. In which he would only reserve to himself the charge of the wars, and the preservation of the laws … Yet for all that, he suffered not the great multitude that came thither tagg and ragg, to be without distinction of degrees and orders. For he first divided the noble men from husbandmen and artificers, appointing the noblemen as judges and magistrates to judge upon matters of Religion, and touching the service of the gods: and of them also he did choose rulers, to bear civil office in the common weale, to determine the law, and to tell all holy and divine things. By this means he made the noble men and the two other estates equal in voice. And as the noblemen did pass the other in honour, even so the artificers exceeded them in number, and the husbandmen them in profit. Now that Theseus was the first who of all others yelded to have a common weale or popular estate (as Aristotle sayeth) and did give over his regal power …
Touching the voyage he made by the sea Major, some hold the opinion that he went thither with Hercules against the Amazons: and that to honour his valiantness, Hercules gave him Antiopa the Amazon. But others do write that Theseus went thither alone and that he took this Amazon prisoner, which is likeliest to be true. Bion sayeth that he brought her away by deceit and stealth. For the Amazons (sayeth he) naturally loving men, did not fly at all when they saw them land in their country, but sent them presents, and that Theseus enticed her to come into his ship, and so soon as she was aboard, he hoist his sail and so carried her away….
Now hear what was the occasion of the wars of the Amazons, which methinks was not a matter of small moment, nor an enterprise of a woman. For they had not placed their camp within the very city of Athens, nor had not fought in the very place adjoining to the temple of the Muses, if they had not first conquered or subdued all the country thereabouts. Now, whether they came by land from so far a country, or that they passed over an arm of the sea, being frozen as Hellanicus sayeth, it is hardly to be credited. But that they camped within the precinct of the very city itself, the names of the places which continue yet to this present day do witness it, and the graves also of the women which died there. But so it is, that both armies lay a great time one in the face of the other, ere they came to battle. Howbeit at the length Theseus having first made sacrifice unto Feare the goddesse, he gave them battle in the month of August, on the same day in the which the Athenians do even at this present solemnise the feast which they call Boedromia …
At the end of four months, peace was taken between them by means of one of the women called Hyppolita. For this Historiographer calleth the Amazon which Theseus maried, Hyppolita, and not Antiopa. Nevertheless, some say that she was slain (fighting on Theseus’ side) with a dart, in memory whereof the pillar which is joyning to the temple of the Olympian ground was set up in her honour. We are not to marvel, if the history of things so ancient, be found so diversely written. Howsoever it was, it is most certain that this war was ended by agreement.
From the anonymous romance, ‘Huon of Bourdeaux’ translated into English in the 1530s by Lord Berners:
When Huon had heard Gerames, then he demanded further of him if he could go to Babilon. Yes, sir, (quoth Gerames) I can go thither by two ways; the most surest way is hence about forty days’ journey, and the other is but fifteen days’ journey: but I counsel you to take the long way, for if you take the shorter way, you must pass through a wood about sixteen leagues of length, but the way is so full of the Fairies and strange things, that such as pass that way are lost, for in that wood abideth a King of the Fairies named Oberon; he is of height but of three foot, and crooked shouldered, but yet he hath an Angell-like visage, so that there is no mortal man that seeth him, but that taketh great pleasure to behold his face; and you shall no sooner be entered into that wood, if you go that way, but he will find the means to speak with you, and if you speak unto him, you are lost forever … And if he see that you will not speak a word unto him, then he will be sore displeased with you, and before you can get out of the wood, he will cause rain and wind, hail and snow, and will make marvelous tempests, with thunder and lightnings, so that it shall seem unto you that all the world should perish, and he will make to seem before you a great running River black and deep but you may pass it at your ease, and it shall not wet the feet of your horse, for all is but fantasy and enchantments that the Dwarf shall make, to the intent to have you with him, and if you can keep yourself without speaking unto him, you may then well escape. But, Sir, to eschew all perils, I counsel you to take the longer way …
On Superstitions and Robin Goodfellow
from ‘The Discoverie of Witchcraft’ by Reginald Scot (1584). Scot was a stern Protestant who associated much superstition with ‘popish’ belief, but was also practically concerned to protect the poor, the aged and the simple-minded from accusations of witchcraft:
But certainly, some one knave in a white sheet hath cozened and abused many thousands that way; specially when Robin Goodfellow kept such a coil in the country. But you shall understand, that these bugs specially are spied and feared of sick folk, children, women, and cowards, which through weakness of mind and body, are shaken with vain dreams and continual fear. The Scythians, being a stout and a warlike nation never see any vain sights or spirits. It is a common saying; A lion feareth no bugs. But in our childhood our mothers’ maids have so terrified us with an ugly devil having horns on his head, fire in his mouth, and a tail in his breech, eyes like a bason, fangs like a dog, claws like a bear, and a voice roaring like a lion, whereby we start and are afraid when we hear one crie Bow! And they have so fraied us with bull beggars, spirits, witches, urchens, elves, hags, fairies, satyrs, pans, fauns, sylens, kit with the cansticke, tritons, centaurs, dwarfs, giants, imps, calcars, conjurors, nymphs, changelings,Incubus, Robin Goodfellow, the spoorne, the mare, the man in the oak, the hell waine, the fierdrake, the puckle, Tom Thumb, hob gobblin, Tom tumbler, boneles, and such other bugs, that we are afraid of our own shadows: in so much as some never fear the devil but in a dark night; and then a polled sheep is a perilous beast, and many times is taken for our fathers soul, specially in a churchyard, where a right hardy man heretofore scant durst pass by night, but his hair would stand upright. For right grave writers report, that spirits most often and specially take the shape of women appearing to monks, &c: and of beasts, dogs, swine, horses, goats, cats, hairs; of fowles, as crows, night owls, and shreeke owls; but they delight most in the likenes of snakes and dragons. Well, thanks be to God, this wretched and cowardly infidelity, since the preaching of the gospel, is in part forgotten: and doubtless, the rest of those illusions will in short time (by Gods grace) be detected and vanish away.
from a popular ballad about Robin Goodfellow, questionably attributed to Ben Jonson, possibly postdating Shakespeare’s play:
From Oberon in fairyland,
the king of ghosts and shadows there,
Mad Robbin I, at his command,
am sent to view the night sports here:
What revell rout
Is kept about,
In every corner where I goe,
I will o’er see,
And merry be,
And make good sport with ho, ho, ho!
More swift than lightening can I flye,
and round about this airy welkin soone,
And, in a minute’s space, descry
each thing that’s done beneath the moone;
There’s not a hag
Nor ghost shall wag,
Nor cry “goblin!” where I doe goe,
But Robin I
Their feats will spye,
And feare them home with ho, ho, ho!
If any wanderers I meet
that from their night-sports doe trudge home,
With counterfeiting voyce I greet
and cause them on with me to roame,
Through woods, through lakes,
Through bogs, through brakes, —
Ore bush and brier with them I goe;
I call upon
Them to come on,
And wend me, laughing ho, ho, ho!
Sometimes I meet them like a man;
sometimes an oxe, sometimes a hound;
And to a horse I turne me can,
to trip and trot about them round.
But if to ride
My back they stride,
More swift than winde away I goe;
Ore hedge and lands,
Through pooles and ponds,
I whirry, laughing, ho, ho, ho!
Yet now and then, the maids to please,
I card at midnight up their wooll:
And while they sleep, snort, fart and fease,
with wheel to threds their flax I pull:
I grind at mill
Their malt [up] still,
I dresse their hemp, I spin their towe;
If any wake,
And would me take,
I wend me, laughing, ho, ho, ho!
Pyramus & Thisbe
abridged from Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ translated by Arthur Golding in 1567. A key resource throughout Shakespeare’s career
Within the town (of whose huge walls so monstrous high and thick
The fame is given Semyramis for making them of brick)
Dwelt hard together two young folk in houses joined so near
That under all one roof well nigh both twain conveyed were.
The name of him was Pyramus, and Thisbe called was she.
So fair a man in all the East was none alive as he,
Nor ne’er a woman, maid nor wife in beauty like to her.
The wall that parted house from house had riven therein a cranny
Which shrunk at making of the wall. This fault not marked of any
Of many hundred years before (what doth not love espy?)
These lovers first of all found out, and made a way whereby
To talk together secretly, and through the same did go
Their loving whisp’rings very light and safely to and fro.
“O thou envious wall (they said) why let’st thou lovers thus?
What matter were it if that thou permitted both of us
In arms each other to embrace? Or if thou think that this
Were overmuch, yet mightest thou at least make room to kiss.”
When night drew near, they bade adieu and each gave kisses sweet
Unto the parget on their side, the which did never meet.
Next morning with her cheerful light had driven the stars aside
And Phoebus with his burning beams the dewy grass had dried.
These lovers at their wonted place by foreappointment met.
Where after much complaint and moan they covenanted to get
Away from such as watchéd them and in the evening late
To steal out of their fathers house and eke the City gate.
And to th’ intent that in the fields they strayed not up and down
They did agree at Ninus’ Tomb to meet without the town.
As soon as darkness once was come, straight Thisbe did devise
A shift to wind her out of doors, that none that were within
Perceivéd her: and muffling her with clothes about her chin,
That no man might discern her face, to Ninus’ Tomb she came
Unto the tree, and sat her down there underneath the same.
Love made her bold. But see the chance, there comes besmeared with blood
Above the chaps a Lioness all foaming from the wood
From slaughter lately made of kine to staunch her bloody thirst
With water of the foresaid spring. Whom Thisbe spying first,
Afar by moonlight, thereupon with fearful steps gan fly,
And in a darkened irksome cave did hide herself thereby.
And as she fled away for haste she let her mantle fall
The which for fear she left behind not looking back at all.
Now when the cruel Lioness her thirst had stanchéd well,
In going to the Wood she found the slender weed that fell
From Thisbe, which with bloody teeth in pieces she did tear.
The night was somewhat further spent ere Pyramus came there
Who seeing in the subtle sand the print of Lions paw,
Waxed pale for fear. But when also the bloody cloak he saw
All rent and torn: “One night (he sayd) shall lovers two confound.
Of which long life deserved she of all that live on ground.
My soul deserves of this mischance the peril for to bear.”
And when he had bewept and kissed the garment which he knew,
“Receive thou my blood too” (quoth he) and therewithall he drew
His sword, the which among his guts he thrust, and by and by
Did draw it from the bleeding wound beginning for to die,
And cast himself upon his back, the blood did spin on high
As when a conduit pipe is cracked, the water bursting out
Doth shoot itself a great way off and pierce the air about.
Anon scarce ridded of her fear with which she was aghast,
For doubt of disapointing him comes Thisbe forth in haste,
And for her lover looks about, rejoicing for to tell
How hardly she had ’scaped that night the danger that befell.
… she cast her eye aside
And there beweltred in his blood her lover she espied
Lie sprawling with his dying limbs: at which she started back
She beat her breast, she shriekéd out, she tare her golden hairs,
And taking him between her arms did wash his wounds with tears,
She mixed her weeping with his blood, and kissing all his face
(Which now became as cold as ice) she cried in woeful case:
“Alas what chance, my Pyramus, hath parted thee and me?
Make answer O my Pyramus: it is thy Thisb, even she
Whom thou dost love most heartily, that speaketh unto thee.
Give ear and raise thy heavy head.” He hearing Thisbe’s name,
Lift up his dying eyes and having seen her closed the same.
But when she knew her mantle there and saw his scabberd lie
Without the sword: “Unhappy man thy love hath made thee die:
Thy love (she said) hath made thee slay thyself. This hand of mine
Is strong enough to do the like. My love no less than thine
Shall give me force to work my wound. I will pursue the dead.”
This said, she took the sword yet warm with slaughter of her love
And setting it beneath her breast, did to her heart it shove.