With its clearcut "play within a play" narrative and simple contrasts between the human and spirit worlds, A Midsummer Night's Dream
has long been a popular introduction to Shakespeare, and Adrian Noble's 1994 RSC production reinforces why. It's a colourful and physical presentation (the latter explains the PG rating), portraying character confrontations with often reckless abandon. The ploy of giving the whole play the appearance of a child's dream is a neat touch that doesn't quite work, as the child himself, Osheen Jones, can have only a minimal amount to do on stage. Casting the main actors in dual roles works well. Alex Jennings is secure as Theseus and Oberon, but Lindsay Duncan all but steals the show as Hippolyta and Titania; her amorous encounter with Bottom, given with gusto by Desmond Barrit, has a lewd quality that Elizabethan audiences might have appreciated. Despite his dreadful 1980s hairdo, Barry Lynch is animated as Puck, while Emily Raymond's plaintive Helena is the pick of the lovers. Howard Blake turns in a sensitive and atmospheric score.
On the DVD: The 16:9 anamorphic picture reproduces excellently in the widescreen format, Dolby Surround sound vividly conveying the spatial realism of Noble's staging. No subtitles, which could be a drawback, but the 12 access points divide the 99-minute production into educational-sized chunks. Sensibly edited, and imaginatively directed, this production ought to have wide appeal. --Richard Whitehouse
Film adaptation of the Royal Shakespeare Company's 1996 version of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. Using spectacular special effects, and introducing a new character in the form of The Boy, this radical staging adds a whole new dimension to the classic tale of royalty, fairies and actors meeting within a forest charged with magic. RSC director Adrian Noble oversees the transition from stage to screen.