A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Barbican Theatre, London

© Ellie Kurtz @ RSC

© Ellie Kurtz @ RSC

Not so much Bottom’s dream as a Krymov Dream, like Simon Stone’s recent Belvoir Company Wild Duck in this same theatre, this is a wholly iconoclastic reading of Shakespeare’s popular comedy, first commissioned for the RSC’s World Shakespeare Festival in 2012.

Sitting alongside other radical reworkings, Krymov’s Dream then might have seemed par for the course. But Dream does seem to lend itself particularly to radical treatment, ie Brook’s Dream, Lepage’s mud-drenched and Jonathan Miller’s darkly psychological versions and most recently Tom Morris’s delightful rude mechanicals and puppet version from Bristol.

In a sense, Krymov’s Dream is Morris’s writ large. Krymov whose Opus 7 in the summer was revelatory, has extracted those bits of Dream that equate only to his own interests, slimming it down to the mechanicals and the story of Pyramus and Thisbe as a paradigm of the art of theatre-making.

As in the second half of Opus 7, giant puppets are his story-telling vehicle. Dispensing at the start with the forest and any hint of fairies, everything else runs in parallel with the original Dream including smartly dressed guests intervening at intervals, but all adapted to Krymov’s own vision.

Krymov keeps mostly to the spirit of the original but his especial tool in trade – subversion – is here used, if with a light but often naughty touch, through contemporary jokes (in the surtitles) and visual inventions – one of the most outrageous being Pyramus sprouting a vast member to the accompaniment of a Schubert song, rationalised to the audience as the song being about `watering the lily’, an illusion here to Thisbe.

Krymov’s Dream, crammed with surreal surprises also includes an adorably animated and loyal terrier and a sense of theatrical convention in flight as any illusion of reality other than the chaotic, inspirational here-and-now which is the reality of theatre-making, is constantly broken.

Yet, unlike Opus 7, Krymov’s Dream, for all its subversion (culminating in a finale of less than perfect young cygnets from Swan Lake) feels light-weight and self-regarding, an exercise in tricks and sleight of hand.

Maybe after all, that is exactly the art of theatre-making itself. Making a little go a long way.

First published in Reviewsgate