Worthy of Magritte

April 20, 2010 at 11:14 pm (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , )

Surreal. That describes Adrian Noble’s 1996 film adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream featuring the Royal Shakespeare Company. This was originally staged in Stratford-upon-Avon and the film version retains much of the theatrical feel of the original.

This film is a little off-putting, but that is what surrealism is all about, right? The entire film is a little boy’s dream. He (played by Osheen Jones) is shown throughout the film, watching, but unseen by the other actors. He lends another level of dreaminess to the proceedings.

The film is a little off-putting and surreal in many other ways. It’s artsy and strange. The colors are bright and garish. Costumes are odd. Sets are… yes, very strange. This is all quite definitely a dream, and not always a good one.

Puck is not a sweet imp, at all. He is creepy and dark. Bottom is not just a silly ass… he is a bit gross. The fairies Cobweb, Peaseblossom and Mustardseed, who I usually see cast as children or pretty girls, are old and kind of clownish (scary clowns, not funny clowns). Some of them play double roles as Mechanicals.

The Pelican Shakespeare edition that I am reading notes that actors often pull double duty in the Theseus/Oberon and Hippolyta/Titania roles, since they are parallel couples who never appear on stage together. This was true in the performance I attended last weekend. Royal Shakespeare Company actors Alex Jennings and Lindsay Duncan each take on the two roles in this film version. On stage, I think it’s easier for the audience to be fooled by different costumes and the distance from seat to stage (my eyes aren’t that great anyway!). But on film, you notice immediately that they are the same actors, transformed. I think it adds to the surreal feel of the film.

Much of the film takes place in the minimalistic “forest” set. It’s an empty stage with lightbulbs hanging down, oddly placed doors that appear and disappear, and strange colors. Titania sleeps in an upside-down umbrella. It is very artsy, but it works. I thought it was interesting.

Unlike the rest of the film, this version of Pyramus and Thisby is quite silly and slapstick and my kids enjoyed it. Which reminds me, there is a sex scene with Titania and Bottom that seems completely unnecessary and gross to me. Be aware of that if you have kids watching this. Also, be aware the whole movie is a bit darker than most productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream… younger children might find it scary.

I would not say I loved this film, but I thought it was interesting and worth watching. It moves along quickly (just over 1.5 hours), and it’s never boring. It definitely gives an unusual, darker, spin to the comedy—a different way to look at things.

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  1. Tue Sorensen said,

    People have very different reactions to this version; some hate it, some love it. The set is quite spartan, but considering what they had to work with, I think the result is good. I enjoyed it. But it is rather… special! 🙂

    • orwhatyouwill said,

      I think it would have been good to see it on the stage. Interesting. I saw an RSC play in Stratford in 1989… I can’t remember for the life of me what I saw. I wonder if Noble directed it. My memory is so bad. I was wondering if he’s always artsy/odd… but I just have no memory of that play other than having drinks during the intermission. LOL.

  2. Renee said,

    I haven’t seen that one. You know, the link below is still my favorite filmed version that maintains some of the stage performance feel of the play. It’s a rather cheesy production, but it’s one that I could watch over and over and still enjoy (thank goodness, since I DID watch it at least 4 times a day the first couple of years that I taught the play! LOL!)


  3. Renee said,

    Did you know that today, April 23rd is Talk like Shakespeare day?


  4. BBC = Gets the Job Done « Or What You Will said,

    […] I found Stuart Burge’s 1984 version of Much Ado About Nothing (part of the BBC’s Television Shakespeare series) quite enjoyable. It’s a straightforward rendition, true to the text, and nothing odd (i.e., green fairies) or annoying (i.e. boring, beige people). There are no bicycles, no Keystone Kops, no surreal umbrellas. […]

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