A Midsummer Night's Dream 1985

Previous Performances

Produced by Cheek by Jowl

Find out more by visiting the entry for this production in our archive
Anne WhiteHippolyta / Titania
Duncan BellTheseus / Oberon
David GillespiePhilostrate / Puck
Saskia ReevesHermia
Simon DormandyEgeus / Mr (Rev) Bottom
Martin TurnerLysander
Colin WakefieldDemetrius
Claire VousdenHelena
Steph BramwellMiss Quince
Leda HodgsonMiss Flute

DirectorDeclan Donnellan
DesignerNick Ormerod
Lighting DesigneNick Kidd
ChoreographerSara van Beers
Company VoicePatsy Rosenburg


Cheek by Jowl have taken great liberties with Shakespeare's Dream, brought it smartly into the present day and introduced some marvellously cheeky characterisations. The lovers are true Brit Sloanes, the girls' friendship a hearty Roedean bond and when Hermia and Lysander escape to the woods, they go complete with hiking boots, rucksacks and sleeping bags. The endearing yokel mechanicals are here a suburban amateur dramatic trio with Bottom a bobble hated reverend and Quince a fussy, twin set 'n' specks spinster. Of the many delights and surprises Martin Turner is a truly princely Duke with the manner and voice of Prince Charles while his Hippolyta imitates the Royal Chat. Scenes and characters flow effortlessly into each other, simple accessories and devices smoothing each transition. Declan Donnellan directs a uniformly excellent cast at a cracking pace in an often hilarious and always lively and imaginative production. Helen Rose, Time Out. 26 March 1986
By a dazzling and wayward conceit, Declan Donnellan has transposed Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, with its moonstruck, aristocratic lovers set among a posse of capricious fairies to late twentieth century Britain, a world of dinner jackets, gloved girls, cardigans and morning suits.

Presiding over this kingdom is a Duke of Athens whose voice and manner is uncannily reminiscent of the Prince of Wales. The crew of mechanicals have been replaced by middle class refugees from the world of Alan Ayckbourn - Nick Bottom has become a fatuous Reverend in a bobble hat, and matching manner, and Peter Quince the carpenter has changed his sex and his role to be a fluttering bespectacled old girl in pink.

Purists and scholars may be affronted and appalled by the liberties so gleefully taken by director and cast alike. For the alterations amount to more than a change of costume and manners. By placing the play in our own prosaic times Donnellan has removed the opportunity of dealing very much in magic or its bewitched practitioners, or our outmoded relish for Victorian version of these. Instead he interprets the play as an Ayckbournian comedy of misplaced love, his lovers roaming the woods bizarrely overdressed - Lysander and Hermia appear there as jaunty hikers with sleeping bags, while Demetrius, balding and mackintoshed looks and behaves like a little like a premature version of a dirty old man.

But as played out on Nick Ormerod's stage design - a white-floored space with matching back cloth on which are printed a haze of blue and green the play becomes a virtuoso feat of situation comedy and invention, the rushed momentum, matched by the speed and vigour of the action. The way in which the Ackybournian mechanicals remove their outer clothing to reveal them in the black and sinister garb of the fairies is a dashing comic idea. It is not textually illuminating, but to make the mechanicals bickering amateur actors makes freshly vivid the characters' grave absurdities. And if we lose a sense of Helena's anguish, as played by Sally Greenwood, all strident and brawling then their furious bewilderment shines brightly through.

Physical action provides the dynamic: David Gillespie's sinister Puck, tripping as he goes to put the girdle round the world; Helena with her large handbag as a weapon. And Donnellan is increasingly alert to the social nuances: Martin Turner's gloriously satirical Theseus exudes smiling discomfiture and glazed goodwill in the final play scene where Colin Wakefield's Bottom is grossly unclerical. Paul Sykes and Saskia Reeves may be typical of the play's refusal to take its complex love pangs too seriously but there is a prevailing sense of unabated fun and idea high spirits. Nicholas de Jongh, The Guardian. 20 March 1986