- A Midsummer Night's Dream dir. by Ian Talbot
Shakespeare self-reflexively warns his audiences about wardrobe chicanery—on stage and in life—when he twice quotes the proverb "Cucullus non facit monachum" (Twelfth Night 1.5.48-9, Measure for Measure 5.1.259.) But if "the cloak does not make the monk," it is nevertheless the case that effective costuming can accomplish a great deal in a stage performance, and in director Ian Talbot's diverting production of A Mid-summer Night's Dream at The Old Globe, costume designer Deirdre Clancy's work took center stage.
Written circa 1595, MND is by far the most sophisticated comedy Shakespeare had written up to this point in his career. The elegant iambic pentameter lines, broad comedy, and magical content of this play make it almost too easy to glide through, as an audience member, without taking much notice of the dynamics of character and narrative. In many productions of MND, the four lovers go through the "green world" of the forest but seem to emerge essentially unchanged; they have come full circle. Furthermore, the world of Athens remains as it ever was: the stable arena of hierarchical privilege and indomitable structure. MND can be performed as a pretty and symmetrical play, but it becomes far more interesting when its sharp edges and dark corners are explored, as they were in Ian Talbot's production. Perhaps MND is not as overtly dark as Shakespeare's subsequent, more mature comedies, but there is a frightening destructive quality to both the Athenian court and the powers of Nature embodied by the fairies and their monarchs. The Old Globe's production capitalized on the vicious potentialities of these worlds.
As one expects at such a venerable theatrical institution as The Old Globe, the roles in this production of MND were well cast and the early modern English rolled gracefully off the actors' tongues. The four lovers were played by talented young actors particularly skilled at physical [End Page 116] comedy, and Talbot's staging demanded much physicality of them as they fought their way hilariously through the forest. The standout performances, however, were given by Krystel Lucas, who played Hippolyta and Titania; Jay Whittaker, who played Theseus and Oberon; and Lucas Hall, who played Puck. The double casting of Hippolyta/Titania and Theseus/ Oberon is common, of course, but Talbot and Clancy bound the dual roles together engagingly through creative costuming and staging. The performance began with actors costumed in vaguely nineteenth-century formal attire carrying out posts with velvet ropes and a red carpet, which they placed in the center of the empty thrust stage to form a square ring, as if we were going to be watching celebrities interviewed at a movie premiere or perhaps witnessing boxers or wrestlers battle. An actor in a servant's costume made jokes with the audience, warming them up, and announced the engagement ceremony and arrival of Theseus and Hippolyta, who entered from the elevated walkways on opposite sides of the stage. Both actors were costumed in scarlet, vividly representing Theseus's lines in this scene: "Hippolyta, I woo'd thee with my sword, / And won thy love doing thee injuries. / But I will wed thee in another key" (1.1.16-18). With a little help from non-Shakespearean dialogue, the opening of the play was thus turned into a self-referential spectacle dominated by the color red, foreshadowing the connection between romantic love and violence that courses through this play from start to finish. In this first scene, Theseus wore the red coat and...