Glade needs Bigg idea

A Midsummer Night's Dream at Newcastle Theatre Royal until Saturday

A Midsummer Night's Dream at Newcastle Theatre Royal until Saturday

A visually stunning version of Shakespeare's most popular comedy opened the RSC's 29th annual Newcastle season last night.

Whereas once monstrous sets were rolled to and fro, these days it's all done with light and shadow - and to jaw-dropping effect in Greg Doran's production.

The woods outside Athens, where the action and magic unfold, may be dark and dangerous. But against such a setting the lights twinkle twice as brightly.

With a reflective floor making the performers appear to be walking on water, and a giant orb of a moon, the sense of other-worldliness is complete.

Sometimes it's like looking at an Arthur Rackham illustration brought to life, particularly before the interval when a mirror device creates a crescent of fairies and sleeping bodies arching from stage to ceiling.

Much use is made of puppets with members of the human cast working the tiny fairies' arms and legs.

Against all this, you will understand, the actors have to work hard to impose themselves.

The quartet playing the bemused lovers - pawns in a fairy tiff - are pleasant enough (Hermia played last night by understudy Bettrys Jones, Sinéad Keenan sidelined with mouth ulcers), but their personalities didn't burn as brightly as the set.

The tiff between Hermia and Hippolyta should be the ultimate Bigg Market brawl, the kind that ends with Northumbria Police declaring: "For you, ladies, the party's over." It was a touch decorous.

Bottom and Co, on the other hand, were intent on stealing more than their 15 minutes of fame.

With accents suggesting an Athens in the English West Midlands, they milk the comic play within a play until the humour runs dry - for my taste anyway.

That said, Malcolm Storry - photographed early yesterday parading his ass's head in a Newcastle bus queue - is clearly the master of the Brummie bray.

Joe Dixon as a massively manipulative Oberon, Amanda Harris as a classy, goth-like Titania and Jonathan Slinger's Puck, the donkey-jacketed antithesis of the archetypal fairy, stole the honours for me.

The production - a sell-out bar returns - heads for Japan straight after Newcastle.

The RSC's Dominic Cooke said last night that the season, also taking in the People's and Live Theatre, was selling "fantastically well" with targets already exceeded. But he said word of the 50 tickets for a fiver, reserved for every performance for people aged 16 to 25, appeared to have been slow to spread.

Pioneered in London, they had "changed the profile of the audience".

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