A Midsummer Night's Dream, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
By Alastair Macaulay
The Royal Shakespeare Company's new production of A Midsummer Night's Dream is an audience hit, comic and unusually picturesque. It also gleams from an intelligent combing of the text: so that the designer Stephen Brimson Lewis makes us more aware of the characters' talk of stars and planets (we see a whole galaxy swell and fill the night sky), and the characters have jokes that are newly rooted in the lines - so that when Flute/Thisbe lets out an embarrassingly long fart, the pay-off comes when Bottom now says: 'Let Thisbe have clean linen.' The lines are spoken according to best RSC principles, with impeccable attention to line-endings and slow monosyllables. The production is memorable above all for its Bunraku-style use of puppets: to Bottom, the fairies all hold out small baby or cherub dolls - when the head of one of them detaches itself, it's as strange a vision as the witches bring to Macbeth. Fairy silhouettes and human shadows abound, so that Puck's final line 'If we shadows' strikes home.