Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Abbey Theatre, Dublin
Set in an old people’s home, this excellent production from director Gavin Quinn turns Shakespeare’s most sexy play on its head.
The four lovers, usually played by the latest hot young male and female stars, are played by older actors. The youngest is Gina Moxley as a refreshingly spiky Helena. Lanky John Kavanagh excels as the love struck Lysander, in his flowery pyjamas. Twelve of the eighteen actors on stage are sixty-plus. There is not an ingénue in sight.
Declan Conlon and Fiona Bell preside beautifully as Theseus and Hippolyta, the doctor and matron in charge of the hospital. They double as Oberon and Titania in the hallucinogenic fairy scenes, which feel like druggy byproducts of palliative care.
The surreal is given a realistic spin, as the love potions are administered by medical drip and oxygen masks. Aedín Cosgrove’s set with billowing yellow cubicle curtains, and medical institution bright colours, is simultaneously cheery and sickly. The point isn’t laboured, but the poignancy is there: when the lovers are in the forest, they walk with ease. Once returned to the ward, they need walking aids.
Finally, the play belongs to the Rude Mechanicals, the band of actors who perform the production for the Athenian Court at the end. David Pearse’s performance as Peter Quince, the leader of the troupe, is comic perfection.
The play-within-a-play that the Rude Mechanicals present is the cod doomed love story of Pyramus and Thisbe. When the time comes for Thisbe (Peadar Lamb) to knife herself, it becomes obvious that the actor is too old to do the elaborate falling to the ground required.
Instead, to much laughter, he stabs himself (herself) a few times, and then walks girlishly off, dignity triumphant. He deservedly got a hand on exit. The whole audacious production is distilled into that single moment. The actor is too old to die.