Once upon a time, moving pictures were all in black-and-white (and a bit of sepia). This was especially helpful for good-guy/bad-guy flicks—just the occasional shade of gray muddied the characterization waters. Inevitably, colour found its way onto the silver screen. Consumers had a simple decision: 25 cents for black-and-white shows, 35 cents for colour—most especially Technicolor from the ever-creative talents at the Disney studios. As a result, cartoons started looking like real comic books (with just a few thousand more frames) and countless vampires were finally able to quench their insatiable thirst on crimson blood. Once in a while (famously Phantom of the Opera and Godzilla) the studios’ quest for cash experimented with colourization—something old was blue again, etc. Happily—faster than the hoola-hoop craze—that practice largely ground to a halt in the early ‘70s. Nowadays, old black-and-white pictures are revered and some filmmakers (cross-reference below) purposely shoot their gritty, grainy stories without benefit of the rainbow.
The Stratford début of both director David Grindley and designer Jonathan Fensom with one of the Bard’s most magical concoctions put everything in vivid colour, playing the show more for bawdy, belly laughs than the usual timeless witticisms and just the occasional crotch grab.
At this matinée performance, the large contingent of students (so good to see) squealed with delight at the genuinely hilarious antics of Bottom (Geraint Wyn Davies’ comedic gifts are most certainly in the same storied realm as Dave Broadfoot, who, in the same era as the release of One Hundred and One Dalmatians could often be found doing stand-up in Stratford—the ideal tonic after a heady dose of Richard III).
The play-within-the-play (The Most Lamentable Comedy and Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe) became a veritable yuk factory without borders. Michael Spencer-Davis as Quince (replete with Peter Sellers demeanour and spectacles) was wonderfully droll—especially in the Prologue. As Thisbe, Skye Brandon strutted his/her stuff with stoic dignity; Kevin Hanchard’s Moonshine, well, shone with just the right measure of saucy petulance. Perhaps dreaming of a Lion King tour, André Sills produced a delightfully likeable Lion whose roar and look would be perfectly at home on the Yellow Brick Road and no competition for MGM’s trademark King of Beasts. Finally, playing Wall, whose plot-point chink was in fact the gateway to the not-so-private family jewels (driving the reaction to “I kiss the wall’s hole, not your lips at all” into the grossness hall of fame), Victor Ertmanis proved an excellent choice as Shakespeare’s great divide.
Very unfortunately, what led up to this last-act frivolity (save and except for Bottom’s appearances and the boxers, briefs and bodice chase) couldn’t find a way to balance, complement or prepare the way for the unabashedly ribald finish.
Rick Fox’s music (rock ‘n’ roll, jazz and the festival’s own fanfare motif for the horn call) matched the here-comes-colour timeframe as did the costumes—inventively permitting Bottom’s ass ears to serve double duty as Puck’s (Tom Rooney was the affable fairy emcee) shoes.
Gamely fulfilling his master’s (Oberon, Dion Johnstone) commands, Rooney had a chance for theatrical greatness (the circus-like entries/exits-on-a-rope were great fun), but was directed by his off-stage commander to steal a peach bra then drape it on Lysander’s (Bruce Godfree) sparkling-white Fruit of the Looms.
The fairy attendants—nicely turned out in various mixtures of leather, denim and skin—stomped with abandon, but were so in-your-face that any possibility of Tinker Bell making a cameo flyby was snuffed out with industrial-strength pixie dust and fog.
Because of Grindley’s humour-heavy vision, the generally fine work from the principal players (notably Laura Condlin’s pitch-perfect portrayal of Helena) was dwarfed by the set-up for the next big gag.
By the time the Broadway bows had some of the crowd cheering on their feet, not a few others were wishing for a finer-tempered palette to have graced the stage. JWR