To see Duke Theseus’s Athens as a 1960s Hollywood film studio in the last days of the tyrant mogul era is an idea worth pursuing.
To then cast the fabulous Duke and his tempestuous wife as Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor playing out their egocentric love-life while making the disastrous Cleopatra is a strong development of that idea.
The four lovers become young actors caught in the spell of the two stars as the bankrupted studio descends into chaos. This now begins to look like a great idea.
Sadly, in this Headlong and Nuffield co-production, it all remains an idea, never properly becoming full-blooded drama. While there is nothing wrong with making an audience work hard, the rewards here are thin. The paradox is that in taking the image of the ultimate dream factory as the setting, there is no transforming magic in this production.
Oberon and Puck are totally grounded in the concept. And though the hapless young lovers are played with a beguiling charm, even their glorious scrap before the end is not energised by the big idea but hampered by it. Bottom, as a camp wannabe actor, robs his encounter with Titania of any sexual charge.
In the Pyramus and Thisbe play, the Burton-Taylor parody comes closest to realising the concept as a piece of celebratory comic invention. Though Michael Dylan’s Thisbe crowns the show, it is too little too late. Until February 19.