Reviews: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Gaiety Theatre, Dublin
Benjamin Britten wrote his Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Aldeburgh Festival of 1960. It was presented in the town’s Jubilee Hall, then newly rebuilt and extended. The hall’s capacity was – and still is – very small, accommodating an audience of just over 300. Britten took this into account by limiting the demands of staging and keeping the size of the orchestra to just 30.
In a way, his Midsummer Night’s Dream would seem like a perfect opera for a company such as Opera Ireland working in Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre, where the stage and pit size impose unreasonable constraints.
David Bolger’s new production has a kind of jack-in-the-box energy that is epitomised by Horace Oliver’s athletic Puck (a speaking role) and even finds countertenor Flavio Oliver’s Oberon turning head over heels.
Designer Monica Frawley has set the work beside the ruin of an Irish house, and garbed the pairs of lovers (Fiona Murphy and Mark Milhofer as Hermia and Lysander, Sandra Oman and Nyle Wolfe and Helena and Demetrius) as younger and outgoing and older and more sober, making all of their outfits wear and tear (literally) from their time in the woods.
The Rustics (as Britten preferred to call the Mechanicals) are led by the clear-voiced Quince of French bass Jean Teitgen and successfully imposed on by the outrageously self-indulgent Bottom of Gerard O’Connor.
The calm nobility of Philip O’Reilly and Imelda Drumm as Theseus and Hippolyta provide a welcome balm in Act III, while the individual fairies (Keith Bates’s Cobweb, Aidan Fitzpatrick’s Peasebottom, Ben Middleton’s Mustardseed and Joshua Brown’s Moth) and chorus are provided by children from the Independent Theatre Workshop.
It’s a lively show, a little hyperactive at times, and in theatrical terms it hits all the necessary buttons. Musically, things are less persuasive. The playing of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra under Stewart Robinson often has a hole-in-the-middle hollowness rather than the magic colouring that Britten intended. And there’s an essential element of lyricism which fails to materialise in the singing.
However, if you think of the production more as Christmas pantomime than opera you’re unlikely to be disappointed. MICHAEL DERVAN