My first "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was the then 28-year-old Peter Hall's 1959 production at Stratford-upon-Avon - in the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. It was a pastoral "Dream", as I recall. On the evidence of the matinée yesterday on the same site (but in a rebuilt as well as renamed theatre), I doubt many of the cast of the production by Nancy Meckler will be as well-known to theatre-goers 50 years hence as Charles Laughton (Peter Hall's Bottom), Ian Holm (Puck), Albert Finney (Lysander) or Vanessa Redgrave (Helena) are today.
Yes, there were a couple of understudies yesterday, but this does not account for the loss of so much poetry. I exonerate the stand-in Bottom, Felix Hayes, and Alex Hassell, an excellent Demetrius; but few of the others, bent as they were on displaying more larynx than lyricism, gabbled lines often jarringly shouted.
Meckler has some fine credits to her name, but her Gothic production (designed by Katrina Lindsay to place the emphasis on "night") smacked less of 24th June than Walpurgisnacht: the dismal Puck even carried a broomstick. It was amusing to have alternate readings from Folio and Quarto spelled out at one point, but what was the dramatic value of Bottom and Flute revelling so explicitly in each other's erotic capital? This was a production of effects, but little magic. There were moments when it took off ("Tie up my love's tongue, bring him silently"), but precious few.
I expect all this carping comes from age and from having a slight ear infection. After all, most of the others in the audience seemed to enjoy themselves hugely. (As of course I did, really.)