Productions 1920 - 2008

A Midsummer Night's Dream (2005) - Oberon (Joe Dixon) and Titania (Amanda Harris) lead the fairies in the blessing at the end of the play. Photo © RSC

A selection of RSC productions listed by year and director:

Gregory Doran (2005 and 2008)
This modern dress production was presided over by an enormous full moon, exerting its influence over mortal and immortal alike. Sinister fairies attended on Oberon and Titania while the Changeling Boy, the cause of their quarrel, was represented by a life-sized puppet. The production was originally staged in the RST in 2005, and revived in 2008 for the Courtyard Theatre's thrust stage. The image (right) shows Oberon (Joe Dixon) and Titania (Amanda Harris) leading the fairies in the blessing at the end of the play.
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Tim Supple (2006)
Supple's production was commissioned by the British Council and toured India before being staged in the Swan in Stratford-upon-Avon as part of the RSC's Complete Works Festival. The company of actors brought together a wide range of backgrounds and skills to create a show which transported the audience to India. From the first moments when the actors tore through the papered scaffolding set and churned up the red earth floor, India was brought to life in Stratford. Shakespeare's text was spoken in English plus six Indian languages.
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Richard Jones (2002)
This was a weird and nightmarish world where Titania looked like a debauched cabaret singer of the German 1930s and Bottom yielded to her advances dressed only in his underpants and ass's head. The lovers pursued each other across the bare, stylized set, gradually losing their outer garments along with their dignity and self-control.

Michael Boyd (1999)
The winter of Thesues's bleak court was invaded by the scarlet flowers of the forest as the libidinous fairies invaded its grey walls. The Fairy King and Queen were doubled with their mortal counterparts. Courtiers and mechanicals danced together at the end of the play-within-the-play and Hippolyta lingeringly handed Bottom a rose at the end of her dance with him as though she was somehow remembering and desiring again a dream of their wild love-making in the forest.

Adrian Noble (1994)
The box set and swing, on which Hippolyta privately mused in the opening moments, were reminiscent of the set of Brook's 1970 production. This was a surreal dream world, where the mechanicals reappeared as the fairies attending upon Titania and her new love. The bare electric bulb of their village hall multiplied and transformed itself into myriad glowing points in the darkness of the mysterious forest.

John Caird (1989)
This production mocked any idea of sentimental prettiness by dressing its fairies in tattered tutus, patched-up wings and Doc Marten boots. Their playground was a junkyard, filled with bicycle frames, an old piano and an iron bedstead which served Titania as her bower. Ilona Sekacz provided a joyous, energising score by subjecting Mendelssohn's music to the same inventive, parodic treatment.
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Bill Alexander (1986)
The opulent elegance of Art Deco characterized this setting. The doubling of the mortal and immortal kings and queens was given an unusual twist in this production. While two different actors took the roles of Theseus and Oberon, the roles of Titania and Hippolyta were doubled. The strange adventures and encounters of the play, therefore, appeared as the dreamlike longings of a reluctant bride and, at the end of the play, Hippolyta left her mortal consort and exited with Oberon.

Ron Daniels (1981)
The repressed fantasies of Victorian sexuality escaped into this forest, the design of which was inspired by the trappings of the nineteenth-century theatre. The lovers who watched the absurd antics of Pyramus and Thisbe had only just grown out of their own version of the excesses of Victorian theatre. Titania and Oberon (who were doubled with Hippolyta and Theseus) were dazzlingly-dressed exotic fairies from Victorian pantomime, while their attendants were scary puppets manipulated by black-clad figures lurking in the background.

John Barton (1977)
The Athenian woods of this production were colourful and picturesque but the shifting lighting and nightmarish fairies attending upon Titania and Oberon created an unsettling atmosphere of menace. The rich lace and creamy silks of the seventeenth-century costumes gave the lovers a childish innocence which was transformed by the forest.

Peter Brook (1970)
This immensely influential production approached the play with deliberate radicalism, taking up the baton from Granville-Barker almost 60 years earlier. A brilliantly-lit white box set replaced the traditional pretty forest and the actors' bright silks, skilful spinning of plates and flights on the trapeze were inspired by the acrobats of the Chinese circus. By doubling the roles of Oberon and Theseus and those of Titania and Hippolyta (played by Alan Howard and Sara Kestelman respectively) Brook made it clear that the Fairy King and Queen were the alter egos of the mortal rulers. The conflicts and erotic adventures of the nocturnal wood were thus conceived as the uncontrollable eruption of subconscious fears and desires.
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Peter Hall (1959, revived in 1962)
The longstanding theory that the play was written to celebrate an aristocratic wedding prompted the setting of an Elizabethan country house that could easily be transformed into the forest by foliage and lighting effects. Elizabethan costumes and rushes strewn on the floor created a sense of period. The fairies were dressed in the richly jewelled costumes of Elizabethan masquers but their bare legs and feet linked them to the wildness of the forest. Charles Laughton played Bottom in the 1959 production.

William Bridges-Adams produced the play in Stratford in 1920 and 1932, obediently following the nineteenth-century traditions of using Mendelssohn's music, bands of dancing fairies and realistic forests. Likewise, Michael Benthall's production in 1949 presented its fairies in the manner of a corps de ballet.

In 1914, Granville-Barker innovatively presented the play on an apron stage with minimal set but it was not until George Devine directed the play at Stratford in 1954 that Granville-Barker's ideas were followed up. Devine's production featured stylised metal trees to denote the forest, with feathered masks and costumes for the fairies.

A full list of RSC productions with details of cast and production team can be found in the RSC Performance Database on the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust website.


Written by Rebecca Brown and Suzanne Worthington © RSC
Photo shows Joe Dixon as Oberon and Amanda Harris as Titania in the RSC's 2005 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream © RSC

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