A Midsummer Night's Dream 2010

Byron Mondahl as Flute & Peaseblossom and Chris Donnelly as Bottom, A Midsummer Night's Dream
(Photo: Farrows Creative)

Director's Note

  For A Midsummer Night’s Dream Shakespeare drew on classical legend 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 ancient 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 … ? Andrew Hilton


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
28th February 2010
* * * *
  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 needs more clarity in her lines, but she 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
21st February 2010
… 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
19th February 2010
* * * *
  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.
  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
3rd Mar 2010
* * * *
  ‘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