A Midsummer Night's Dreamat the Peacock Theatre and the RTE Concert Orchestra's lunchtime performance at the National Concert Hall
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Peacock Theatre, Dublin
When the line comes, it is delivered with the over-familiarity of a cliché, a shrugging understanding that the words have been said several thousand times already: "The course of true love never did run smooth." In National Youth Theatre's ferociously energetic production, that's putting it mildly.
But Barry Morgan's reading, as Athenian bad boy Lysander, reveals another layer of this production's wit. Here it is desire, more than love, that rages like an ungovernable torrent. György Vidovszky's production, full of sound and fury and signifying quite a number of things, recognises that even a play as fun and frantic as A Midsummer Night's Dream can be shaken up and made anew with youthful vigour.
That's why the cast - drawn from several youth theatres under the aegis of the National Association of Youth Drama - don't so much take the stage as invade the theatre, spilling in through the auditorium in a frenzy. Or why they reverberate with the spiky sexual politics of the play more than its fantasy, making almost every coupling an act of violent force or subjugation.
Even Mary-Rose Phipps, as a sort of mall-punk Puck, is sexualised and subversive, while the union of Brian Devaney's road-warrior Theseus and Róisín Watson's otherworldly Hippolyta is achieved only by means of sturdy restraints and a burlap sack. The stage picture, under Eamon Fox's iridescent lights, may be beautiful, but the dream could shatter into a nightmare at any second.
Just as Diego Pitarch's design, equal parts elegance and decay, preserves the framework of a demolished house but hollows out a liberated centre, so the play gets similar treatment. The verse and tangled desires of Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius and Helena - a love quadrangle further complicated by fairy intervention - remain a protected structure, but there is more than a touch of extended Saturday morning improv to the renovated prose of the hapless rude mechanicals: "We don't need the original text, Nick," Quince tells Bottom. "F**k the purists." Shakespeare certainly allows for such self-mocking gestures, but these scenes are less successful precisely because the play wasn't that pure to begin with.
Characters such as Roxanna Nic Liam's masochistic Helena are spurred on by rejection ("The more you beat me, the more I will fawn on you") but horrified by reciprocation; lovers become enemies in a heartbeat; desire is fickle and instantaneous; the moment of consummation is profoundly awkward. Any similarity to adolescence is entirely intentional. And although the stage abounds with apples (the semiotician's go-to device for forbidden longing), all that wild energy finally succumbs, rather sweetly and conservatively, to a low-lit snog-a-thon . . . How do you like them apples?
Rossini - Thieving Magpie Overture. Vaughan Williams - The Lark Ascending. Coates - Symphonic Rhapsody on "I Heard You Singing" and "Bird Songs at Eventide". Ravel - Mother Goose Suite
Both in its programme and its combination of orchestra and conductor, this lunchtime concert hit the mark. Much of the music was of the lighter kind; but some of it is very sophisticated, and calls for a subtlety that one tends to associate with music of a more obviously highbrow quality. For such programming to work, the performers must balance the stylistic contrasts involved. Under the baton of John Wilson, the RTÉ Concert Orchestra did just that.
Rossini's Thieving Magpie Overture was snappy and vigorous. Although there were some ragged edges, it was clear that they were because of individuals rather than the core.
Snappiness is not what Vaughan Williams's The Lark Ascending needs. So it was rewarding to hear the RTÉCO produce a soft-edged, flexible attack. Above all, the playing of the orchestra's leader, Mia Cooper, in the dominating solo violin part, was a model of rhapsodic discourse, both in the way she and the orchestral soloists responded to one another, and in the way her part grew gradually over the orchestral backdrop.
That ability to embrace stylistic contrasts was one of the concert's strongest aspects. This performance of Eric Coates's Symphonic Rhapsody on "I Heard You Singing" and "Bird Song at Eventide" neatly caught Coates's combination of Elgar's lighter mode and Broadway splendour.
I have heard Irish orchestras play Ravel's Mother Goose Suite with more precision. However, this account - like several pieces in this concert - was impeccable in its sense of scale. Sometimes the slower movements lost momentum; but the playing knew what it wanted to achieve, and did it. It was significant that the final crescendo, which is notorious for its temptation to over-strive, was beautifully and subtly graded.