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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Noel Coward


  Sheridan Smith/ Ph: Johan Persson

Let your hair down. Cast off your inhibitions. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, heading into the woods serves as metaphor – as well as a nocturnal setting – for folks getting sexually liberated and playing out their alternative fantasies. In Shakespeare's oneiric comedy, the young Athenians Demetrius and Lysander become shamelessly fickle suitors once they're out roving in the forest – both switching their affections from Hermia to Helena. Meanwhile, transformed into a whinnying ass, Bottom the weaver finds himself canoodling with a forthrightly libidinous stranger, Titania.
Michael Grandage's new star-studded West End production has Sheridan Smith doubling roles. In the Athenian court, she is a restrained, post-World War II Hippolyta, with a neat chignon and grey, Dior-style suit. She is betrothed to Pádraic Delaney's old-school Theseus, an aristocratic patriarch. But outside the city walls, moonlit, Smith changes into a partying Titania with pink, tousled hair extensions. Her retinue – in shorts and shades, bandanas and beads – dance around to bursts of Simon and Garfunkel or ethnic drumming. Think into the woods-going-on-Woodstock, loosely speaking.
It's quite a clever directorial concept, envisaging Shakespeare's shift from one realm to another as a sociological journey through eras, with changing mores. As Titania, Smith's look is 1960s and beyond, with a punky hint of Toyah Wilcox or maybe Courtney Love.
Meanwhile, in his am-dram rehearsal scenes with the Mechanicals, David Walliams' plays Bottom not as an earthy rustic, but as a high-pitched, lip-pursing homosexual in a cravat – who occasionally can't resist pawing the bewildered lad who's having to cross-dress as Thisbe. There's more than a touch of Frankie Howerd about Walliams' mannerisms. His camp rendition of Bottom fits some lines surprisingly well (not least "I will roar you as 'twere any nightingale"). And it's a rather witty twist that his racy aberration is a hetero fling with the queen of the fairies, with his voice dropping a couple of octaves. The disappointment is that Walliams' performance isn't tremendously funny, and anyone who has seen his camp routines in the BBC TV comedy series Little Britain may wonder if he's a pony of few tricks. Smith is much more charming, petite and husky, amusingly dwarfed by him, and flirtatiously wanton with a girlish innocence that avoids sleaziness.
However, this production's vision of a druggy rave – set amongst blue painted trees under a gigantic moon – looks sanitized, not to say cheesy. In terms of erotica, nothing's going to frighten the horses here. The plethora of bared torsos is merely distracting. Gavin Fowler's instantly forgettable Puck isn't even impish, and Delaney's Oberon is, at best, perfunctory.
It's the quartet of young lovers – including Susannah Fielding's galled Hermia and Katherine Kingsley's exasperated Helena – who shine out. They never milk the poetry but invest Shakespeare's couplets with refreshing naturalism and impassioned urgency. 
Kate Bassett has been a theatre critic for The Times of London, The Daily Telegraph and The Independent on Sunday. She also writes for


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