The Fairy Queen, Glyndebourne, July 2012

A  Midsummer Night’s Dream as Gesamtkunstwerk, with actors, singers, and dancers in Purcell’s remarkable semi-opera, is given here in an eclectic production by Jonathan Kent combining the seventeenth century with modern times — linked of course by the fairies.

Titania, changeling, fairies, all images Richard Hubert Smith

It all starts in a Restoration drawing room with a Restoration version of Shakespeare. His play within a play is extended by musical interludes and four musical masques, the one before the long interval showing the delights of sensual love. This involves giant bunnies having it off every which way, including reversing roles in a pantomime that would confuse the children. But there is a pantomime spirit about the whole thing, including the way Finbar Lynch plays Oberon, and when conductor Laurence Cummings appeared for curtain calls at the end his bunny tail and huge white feet reflected the great enthusiasm and energy he had already shown in the orchestra pit, producing a lively performance from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

The lovers united by fairy magic

Anyone who has been to the Globe Theatre will be used to hearing bits of music and dance with the plays, but here it entirely takes over from time to time, and Kim Brandstrup’s imaginative choreography was a joy to watch. That is the one thing I would happily have seen more of, but on the other hand anything more in this production would surely tip it over the top. As it is, Paul Brown’s designs gave me more than I bargained for, and when the seasons came on towards the end, Autumn looked like a Mayan god. It was almost too much. That was followed by the best vocal performance of the evening by bass David Soar as Winter — he was super.

Puck and fairies

Other fine performances were given by actors Jotham Annan as Puck and Penny Downie as Titania. Annan’s lithe body made it look as if he could transport himself anywhere in the forest, and Penny Downie gave a rendering of Titania that reminded me of the quality Judi Dench brought to the role in a recent production. The Rude Mechanicals are cleaners whose abrupt appearance in the seventeenth century drawing room was something of a coup de theâtre, but this production was not short of such sudden theatrical changes in costume.

The double wedding

So many changes, so little time, but this is not a short work, so be prepared for laughter and confusion.

There will be a cinema screening on Sunday, July 22, and performances continue until August 26 — for details click here.

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