The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.
Two years ago I reviewed two film productions here of Shakespeare’s fantasy-filled play A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935, 1999). I even suggested that, given the sheer number of adaptations, it might become a midsummer tradition.
We missed last year, but…. Yeah, last year. Let’s try again, with a 1968 production that brings Diana Rigg (likely best-known to Bureau-cats for her roles in Avengers and Game of Thrones), Helen Mirren, Ian Holm (Bilbo to you), Judi Dench (many roles, but if you’re here, you likely thought of M), Paul Rogers, and nudity to Shakespeare’s comedy.
Greek mythology, faeries, magic, lovers young and old, and a well-meaning troupe of dubious actors await you.
You may even watch the entire play at YouTube, but you will need to sign in and confirm your age.
Title: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1968)
Cast and Crew
Directed by Peter Hall
Written by William Shakespeare
Derek Godfrey as Theseus
Barbara Jefford as Hippolyta
Nicholas Selby as Egeus
Hugh Sullivan as Philostrate
David Warner as Lysander
Diana Rigg as Helena
Michael Jayston as Demetrius
Helen Mirren as Hermia
Paul Rogers as Bottom the Weaver
Sebastian Shaw as Quince the Carpenter
Bill Travers as Snout the Tinker
Clive Swift as Snug the Joiner
Donald Eccles as Starveling the Tailor
John Normington as Flute the Bellows-Mender
Ian Richardson as Oberon, King of the Faeries
Judi Dench as Titania, Queen of the Faeries
Ian Holm as Puck or Robin Goodfellow
Clare Dench as First Faerie
Emma Dench as Peaseblossom
Various other children not related to Judi Dench as other Faeries1
The Duke of Athens prepares to marry the Queen of the Amazons, young lovers flee into the forest to escape a legal restriction, and the King and Queen of the Faeries quarrel over a changeling. The king enlists the assistance of the trickster, Puck. Meanwhile, several tradesmen rehearse a play to be performed at he Duke’s wedding, and hope not to make asses of themselves.
The production features some excellent stage actors, members of the Royal Shakespeare Company. A few appear fairly early in their career, and it’s a chance to see future stars.
Despite some staging shortcomings, the production holds up. “Pyramus and Thisbe” proves suitably hilarious.
I get the concept of having children play the faeries, but they look more like a strange tribe of feral kids than anything magical. They also clash strangely with the underclad adult lead forest-folk.
Originality: 2/6 The play blends comedic with occasional erotic elements. More than a few painters have depicted the faeries in little or no clothing, and many productions have shown the human lovers losing their outer-ware in the forest. But few previous productions added even the discrete exposure we see in this adaptation. Since the 70s, a few productions have included nudity, from tactful to full-frontal. Possibly, we can credit this production for adding something new to a play that has been performed since the 1500s.
Effects: 3/6 The few special effects look quite obvious and a bit silly now, and the non-lighting effects probably seemed unnecessary then.
Bottom’s donkey make-up looks pretty good, and the faeries get pointy ears.
Acting: 5/6 Fun fact: Holm and Dench appeared together in a 1959 TV adaptation. He played Puck in that production as well, while she had a minor role. Helen Mirren later played Titania in a 1981 version.
Production: 4/6 They shot on a blend of soundstages and locations. It works, since the script remains front and center, but the production isn’t especially strong or memorable.
Emotional Response: 4/6
Overall: 4/6 It’s an interesting but not outstanding production.
In total, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1968) receives 28/42
1. The Denches in question are the future Dame’s nieces.
Q: What did you do on your summer vacation?
A: We were on the telly playing faeries with our nude auntie.