Words are almost inadequate to describe this glorious piece of theatre, commissioned for the World Shakespeare Festival. It explodes on to the RSC stage in an outbreak of mayhem, with a toppling tree crested by an acrobatic Jack Russell terrier, a fountain out of control and a bunch of mechanicals who have left their sweepings all over the royal box.
A scene from A Midsummer Nightâ€™s Dream (As You Like It) Royal Shakespeare, Stratford-upon-Avon Photo: Ellie Kurttz/RSC
It takes ten actors to manipulate the two 15 foot high, randomly assembled puppets that are the lovers, Pyramus and Thisbe, subjects of the play. What makes this show so extraordinary is that amid the absurdity, the drollery, the deadpan and the laugh out loud are moments of extraordinary tenderness, mystery and depth. Watching a robotic hand curl and uncurl to clasp an apple or wipe a tear is stilling and emotional. Watching the same puppet swallowing a pineapple is positively Pythonesque.
So it is throughout the play, a teasing, brain-testing juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy that is the very essence of Shakespeare. It’s in Russian, with surtitles, and the subtlety lies in how few they are, how clever, how well timed and how important. Far from being a tool, they are so integral to the play that they would still be needed if it were in English.
And oh, the melting-pot of music and culture and religion, in Purcell and Villa-Lobos, the winged lion and Jesus Christ, Romeo and Juliet, John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The dog would steal the show if there weren’t so much else going on.