A Midsummer Night’s Dream, when done well, is one of Shakespeare’s most enjoyable plays to watch. Often hilarious, witty and touching, the script lends itself to multitudes of settings and interpretations, with varying degrees of success. Michael Grandage has taken on Shakespeare’s comedy for his West End season at the Noel Coward Theatre, and it has all entertainment value that you’d hope for, helped along by a little bit of celebrity magic.
For his take on the classic play, Grandage chose to put Titania and Oberon’s fairy kingdom right in the middle of the 60’s; Sheridan Smith is a stoner fairy queen, lounging in an abandoned house set, surrounded by hedonistic flower-children, complete with tribal dancing and a spliff. Smith doubles as Hippolyta as has become traditional in performances of the play, although very little reason or parallel is drawn to justify this, one of the few notable weaknesses of this production. She is at her best when, having been unknowingly drugged by Oberon, she falls helplessly in love with Walliams’ Bottom, in scenes that prove Smith to be a truly funny and endlessly entertaining stage actor.
David Walliams is perfectly cast as Bottom, putting in a suitably hammy performance as the amateur thespian, playing him up with enhanced campness and getting endless laughs from the audience. Although often celebrity appearances in theatre can be overrated and gratuitous, Walliams makes a warm-hearted, likeable Bottom and the laughs are generally well earned.
A Midsummer Nights Dream is fast-paced and funny; its celebrity stars are well directed and really make the most of the humour that the script offers. Although certain textual elements of the play could have been explored in greater depth, and particular connections or themes could have been brought out with more emphasis, Grandage’s production is a joy to watch, and when it comes to Shakespeare’s comedies, that’s what matters most.