Dmitry Krymov’s very loose adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is both delightful and wacky but at the same time also entirely insignificant. The director focuses on the Mechanicals, the labourers who perform for Athenian court in Shakespeare’s play, and their enactment of the tragic love story of Pyramus and Thisbe. His production is an interesting blend of circus acts, puppetry and ballet but the result is impossible to define: it is not avant-garde theatre (there is no political agenda in this production), it is not street theatre (the production lacks energy and pace), it is not Shakespeare (Shakespearean characters are barely recognisable apart from the two four-metre puppets called Pyramus and Thisbe).
The pace of the play is very slow (except for the frenetic beginning) and the structure of the performance episodic. A succession of jokes, pranks and visual gags is funny and even absorbing but the lack of any clear narrative cannot be replaced by mere foolery. The value of this production lies chiefly in its clever (but not entirely original) use of meta-theatricality. It is the main source of humour and suits the plot involving Mechanicals but I have seen it done many times before and with much better results, for example in Irina Brook’s adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2011. The Mechanicals constantly draw attention to how they act, operate puppets or build stage design. From the start it is obvious they are unprepared for the spectators in the Barbican (they have to ask the audience to help with props) and the fake spectators who sit on stage and constantly comment action on stage.
The best elements of the play are some carnivalesque traits, especially through the use of puppets, and the idea of the theatre within theatre as a framing device. No doubt this is enough to pass a pleasant evening at the theatre for me however Krymov’s Shakespearean adaptation fails to achieve any emotional impact, a failure that I cannot forgive.