Phill Jupitus is without a doubt a draw to Theatre Royal’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream on until 20 August.
This revel is deftly directed by Laurence Boswell, who handles the themes with a light but sure touch, pushing the play’s comedy to the fore. Underneath the fun the play explores duality: comparing Athenian rigidity of knowing nobles, naive workmen, strict laws with the sensuous fairy world of licentiousness, carnality and love. It was funny, sexy, and occasionally gloriously rude.
The set is stunning. The severity of Theseus’s judgement on Hermia takes place in front of a starkly white backdrop. The forest’s dark subversion is dominated by a huge moon and magic lighting.
Jupitus is all the Bottom you could hope for. Gags come quick and fast, and he is supported by a great cast of mechanicals. Jupitus mixes knowing asides and slapstick, using his voice particularly effectively to help convey the essential meaning. Without doubt he is the best Bottom I’ve seen as he manages to get across a character beyond the usual buffoonery.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed Phill Jupitus’s Bottom, but he did not entirely steal the whole show for me as the whole cast are superb. The female members of the cast – Hermia, Helena and Hippolyta/Titania sparkle and provide a witty female counterpart to the strictures of male-dominated Athenian life. The women ably demonstrate the conflict between the couples by how they try to subvert the authority of Theseus/Oberon. The plot and comedy is largely driven by the three women and their choices and they are sublimely spirited in their roles.
The faery world seduces the characters into chaos as they all pursue something. Titania and Oberon are magnificent in their quarrel over the boy. Puck contorts his body and his voice for otherworldly mischief as the mayhem takes over.
Within the wild wood the play explores magic, and misplaced adoration before all is resolved with a surprise towards the end. The players show Shakespeare’s comedy at its best. It is really, really funny. The farcical elements of the lovers’ fights had the audience shaking with laughter. The actors amused the crowd with riotous physicality.
Order is, of course restored with the trio of marriages. Every couple finds their proper partner and we are left with the workmen’s irreverent play within a play provoking general hilarity in the audience which demonstrated to me how funny Shakespeare can be in the right hands.
The Bath Theatre Royal’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was certainly the funniest version I have seen and it’s on until Saturday 20 August.
Review by Sophia Beyer, for other events and listings see Live Mendips’s what’s on page