DVD Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (RSC 1996)

“Thou art translated”

Perhaps at the time, this 1996 RSC adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Adrian Noble was revolutionary in the way it reconceives the action of Shakespeare’s play, but to today’s eyes or at least mine in particular, it now feels rather hokey and dated. I suspect as well that something may have been lost in the translation from stage to screen as too often, the abiding vibe of this production was closer to a cheap music video.

It didn’t help that I disliked the opening conceit, and one that was carried through the whole show, of this being a figment of a young boy’s imagination, inspired by a book he’s reading. I could have lived with it had it just been at the beginning but the boy is a constant presence, we’re forever following his movements as we shift from scene to scene, but he has no real role in the show, no interaction with the characters and so it just becomes this clumsy device that continually rears its head. Continue reading “DVD Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (RSC 1996)”

DVD Review: RSC’s King Lear

“Who is it that can tell me who I am”

Transferring stage productions onto film is something fraught with difficulties as the magic of live performance never really survives the change of medium, so something else, something slightly different has to be striven for. Trevor Nunn’s King Lear for the RSC – originated in Stratford in 2007 then toured the world before a West End season in rep with The Seagull – which stars Ian McKellen in the title role is not a filmed performance on stage, but nor is it a reconceived enhanced film version. Instead, it was filmed rather simply at Pinewood Studios, at the end of the tour, so it has the feel of a piece of theatre rather than of film, with the added bonus of being able to see the acting up close.

And what a bonus it is. McKellen is simply outstanding here. Jacobi’s Lear for the Donmar was my first ever and I couldn’t imagine it ever being bettered, Greg Hicks’ recent RSC one was just different, but this is such an incredibly visceral performance, full of anger and rage and bewilderment that is highly affecting even on screen – what it must have been like live I can’t imagine, but the camera captures every single nervy tic and nuanced touch that must have been missed in some of the larger theatres. And facing up against him is Frances Barber as Goneril in what must be one of the performances of her lifetime. She is just astounding, all kinds of manipulative, Machiavellian evil as she plots her way through the play, but almost justifiably so as the fierce tragedy carved on her face as her father curses her indicates the troubled history between father and daughter. This is the type of performance that makes you wish the sisters were featured much more in the play. Monica Dolan’s Regan is also tremendously strong, a more nervous, unhinged energy that plays out maliciously as she caresses the text languorously and Romola Garai’s Cordelia is beautifully spoken and extremely moving. Continue reading “DVD Review: RSC’s King Lear”