Richard Lutz takes to the Athenian woods to watch Shakespeare’s comedy of magic and love.
The Royal Shakespeare Company offers up Shakespeare’s most enchanting comedy – always a treat. And to add a nod to the 400th anniversary of the writer’s death, it injects a new element.
Those bumbling clowns who put on the shambles of an interlude for the king, the so-called rude mechanicals, are played by real local am-dram actors. And, as the play tours the UK, it will use other regional non-professional groups to be Bottom, Squint, Snout and friends.
Now, to act badly you got to be a good actor. And since Bottom, for instance, has the most lines in the play (12%, according to Shakespeare experts) you just have to be a really fine performer to act that terribly. Think of Tommy Cooper, the great English magician who was so adept at messing up his tricks. He was a genius. Or Dudley Moore who played bad piano so well.
Unfortunately, in the scenes we all wait for as the rubes rehearse and then perform their awful little playlet within a play, Pyramus and Thisbe, you just don’t get, as they say in Britain, the full welly. It doesn’t work.
The amateurs just aren’t sharp nor hilarious enough. They don’t have the stage craft nor the voices – though Bottom, played by amateur David Mears (from the town’s Bear Pit Theatre), does occasionally rise to the depths of a self deluded but enthusiastic non-pro star who throws himself overwhelmingly into his role.
Also, being in Stratford, where was the whiney always hilarious West Midlands accent that would have put a jolly edge on it all? Let’s hope when the play tours to Newcastle, Truro, Glasgow and London, the local groups inject the regional twang that will give the play a comic punch.
Otherwise, the play joyfully jumbles on. Oberon, the king of the fairies, is played by a toweringly elegant Chu Omambala, a languid romantic lead in any play. His Titania is performed by Ayesha Darker, a sensual queen of the night who falls headlong for her ass. Puck is a Dickensian street urchin in top hat, played wild- eyed and over the top by Lucy Ellinson with a hint of erotic passion for Oberon
The play is set, for unknown reasons, in and around a bombed-out husk of a city after the second world war. Costumes and music reflect that era admirably. But the time period never links in with the overwhelming spirit of Shakespesre’s great comedy about the magical world, the pairing and unpairing of couples (there are six couples to ponder over if you count them) and the power of love made hilarious by the fairy world.
At Stratford until 5th March, then touring, and then 17th May-16th July. Tickets: 0844 800 1114.