Review: Guildhall School of Music’s 2019 production of Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream

Ambitious programming, some strong voices, and a brilliant set. The direction didn’t always support voice projection. Bottom, strong.

I didn’t especially enjoy the Guildhall’s Midsummer Night’s Dream production last week. It’s probably best to just come out and say it straight off the bat.

This was ambitious programming, the challenge of which was undoubtedly met by the striking set design which did much to make use of Silk Street Theatre’s considerable perhaps even intimidating space.

It seems incredible to think that the first performance of the work in 1960 was in Aldeburgh’s Jubilee Hall – a much smaller space than that at the Guildhall’s theatre. The restricted available space undoubtedly will have influenced Britten’s composition in terms of resources. I had for example always considered MSND a chamber opera like Lucretia or Herring. Yet, in the Silk Street Theatre, the production gave the work a larger scale symphonic feel.

This wasn’t altogether successful. There were some moments the direction had positioned solo voices were positioned at the back of the raked stage, sometimes characters singing side on to the audience. From time to time diction was lost and the orchestra dominated.

The set design probably didn’t help in this regard. A design which reduced the active stage area may well have imposed restrictions on the direction which in turn may have supported the voices a little more.

Collin Shay (Oberon) caught my ear quite early on. A demanding role it seems to me which exposes the performer right from the off. What I appreciated most in his performance was the way it developed throughout the production. Though a confident presence on stage, I did wonder whether nerves had got to him initially. Subsequent appearances saw his delivery get progressively stronger.

Those scenes featuring the Rustics (for those unfamiliar with Britten and Pears’ libretto this is where Bottom has his starring role) were when energy was resolutely on stage. The ensemble was tight, rich, and warm. Collective confidence brought their scenes to life.

Christian Valle (Bottom) played a distinctive character. Unorthodox, daring but also charming. William Thomas (Quince) proved a suitable foil making Bottom’s awkwardness lovable.

Performance attended: Wednesday 27 February 2019
Picture credit: Clive Barda

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