Opera review: Scottish Opera: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Theatre Royal, Glasgow
This is the third Shakespeare opera Dominic Hill has directed for Scottish Opera, and in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream he has scored his biggest success. As you’d expect from a man of the theatre – currently artistic director at Glasgow’s Citz – his take on this coiled tale of fairies, despots and underlings is far from standard. Menace and malice are universally, often shockingly, present. But that doesn’t kill the magic or the fun.
We’re thrust into a post-World War II scenario, the opening a superb coup de théâtre in which an initially frozen tableaux of ravaged beings – the excellent children’s chorus – mirrors the music’s slow motion coming-to-life. From here, it’s a crazy, topsy-turvy dreamworld.
Tom Piper’s stage design is playfully surreal: mostly a madcap concoction of descending beds, sheets and mattresses. Puppetry – a spooky manifestation of the silent changeling boy – and illusion add to this gripping spectacle.
Hill has a cast that buys wholesale into his vision. Lawrence Zazzo’s Oberon and Catriona Hewitson’s Tytania issue telling hints of fragile authority. The quartet of confused lovers is mesmerisingly agile: Elgan Llÿr Thomas (something of a Hugh Grant lookalike) as a quicksilver Lysander, and Lea Shaw rich-toned as Hermia; Jonathan McGovern’s Demetrius and Charlie Drummond’s Helena are equally well-matched.
At the other end of the food chain, the mechanicals are a hilarious, motley team, their eventual “play within a play” a perfectly-timed comedy, with David Shipley’s Bottom a shining lead.
This is a riveting, physical production, epitomised by Michael Guest’s head-spinning Puck. As such, the eventual stately appearance of Jonathan Lemalu’s stentorian Theseus and Annie Reilly’s courtly Hippolyta strikes a resolute moment.
Stuart Stratford’s musical direction reaps a robust orchestral performance, a natural bedfellow to Hill’s convincingly original concept.
Theatre Royal, Glasgow, until 26 February, then Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, 1-5 March, www.scottishopera.org.uk
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