Responding to unit 4, section C
Read the evaluation of Greg Doran’s recent production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that follows. It was written by a student in response to a unit 1 task and effectively evaluates the production, with an emphasis on the role of the designer within the director’s interpretation. You will notice that Sean has structured his response to take the reader through what he considers to be the most important – to him – elements of the production and has supported his examples from the production with clear evaluative comments.
When you read Sean’s response, you will see that he has placed himself very clearly at the centre, offering personal references right from the opening line. He has opinions and he is able to express these and support them with specific examples from the experience. This evaluation is not about the play – it is about one student’s reaction to a production of the play.
As a starting point for section C of unit 4 it is worth reminding yourself of the theatre evaluation you wrote for unit 1 – break it down to see how effective it was at demonstrating your understanding of the experience as a member of the audience.
Consider the following question:
- Look at Sean’s response and list the design elements he specifically writes about in his evaluation.
- In your research into Elizabethan Theatre, find relevant information in order for you to be able to cross-reference this material with the statements Sean makes in his evaluation.
- Rewrite Sean’s response to answer the following, typical A2 question:
‘This is the age of the designer – actors take second place.’
In the light of this statement, discuss the production you have seen in comparison with its original performance conditions.
Once you have completed the task, you will probably find that there is too much material for you to comfortably use in a response to an examination question. Try writing your response in a sample question booklet and see how much you can write in 50 minutes. You should then have a reasonable structure to a response which might be adaptable to a series of practice questions.
‘This is the age of the designer – actors take second place.’
In the light of this statement, discuss the production you have seen.
You should be able to see that Sean, in his response to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, has gone a long way to meeting the demands of this question. This is A2 work, however, and a requirement of section C unit 4 is to make comparative reference to the original performance conditions of the play. Sean’s response at the moment does not do this – what would he need to do in order to access the higher bands of marks in section C?
Sample Section C Response adapted from the work of Sean Knox, a Year 13 student
Greg Doran’s Production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’
Doran’s production was effective because I think that his concept complemented my own interpretation of the play. He seemed fascinated with the magical elements through the visual impact of the design and use of space. The magical elements were communicated effectively by using things like light bulbs suspended from the flies to represent stars. I think Doran was trying to make the production appeal to a wide audience and wanted to emphasise things like the cosmos to people who are interested in that. His focus, whilst on the visual element of the design, did not lose sight of the importance of the portrayal of the characters.
By using such interesting lighting states and using colour to such a great degree, he visually demonstrated location and mood very effectively.
I felt that the main set, basically an empty space, worked well. Different locations were mainly created through lighting effects, e.g, shadows and silhouettes with colours, like purples and greens. This added to the magical qualities of the play. It had a very strong visual and aural impact by using things like sound, costume, set, lighting and props.
Mitchell’s lighting design clearly differentiated the two worlds of the narrative by using a low level of intensity for the wood and a much higher level of intensity for Athens.
The thrust stage was used effectively and I felt I was involved with the play because of the close proximity of the actors. This broke down the formal barrier between the actors and the audience, for example, at the end when the Rude Mechanicals were performing the play within a play, I almost felt like I was sitting alongside Theseus (Curtis) this allowed me to relate to the characters on stage more effectively than if it was performed on a proscenium arch stage. Use of entrances and exits through the audience broke down the formal barrier as actors remained in character. There was a moment at the end of the play when Sam Alexander (Philostrate) brought on the Rude Mechanicals because and he stopped right next to my seat and was muttering “For God’s sake” to himself. I found this extremely effective as I was the only person who could actually hear him and it showed that he remained in character even when he wasn’t the main focus. I almost felt like he directed it to me and it was even more effective than a direct address because it made it much more personal. This was effective as it revealed Philostrate’s disdain for the Mechanicals’ play and because I was involved with that moment.
Doran and designer O’Connell made the various locations very clear. Mitchell’s lighting design made the forest seem more mysterious and eerie through lighting states using colours and shadows. In contrast in Athens there was an even wash of bright light. Lighting states were important for signifying locations. Whereas, I think, the forest was supposed to look dark and threatening, the palace seemed almost the complete opposite. This contrast was effective because Doran needed to make it clear which place was which and create the atmosphere for those places. I think the costume was used effectively to visually distinguish different characters. Davey (Lysander) and Bennett (Demetrius) had contrasting clothes. Davey’s costume looked more casual, reflecting his romantic and laid-back personality. Bennet, however, wore a suit. This made him seem less emotional and more businesslike in attitude. This was suggested when he was trying to use the law to win Hermia’s love. The fairies costumes were dark and sinister. I felt Doran wanted his fairies to appear as threatening rather than be a more stereotypical type of fairy (a contrast to a previous RSC production). There was a definite contrast between the fairies’ costume and the mortals’ costume. The fairies wore black and the mortals wore light coloured clothes. This was obviously important as there needed to be a clear distinction between the two worlds. Harris (Titania) had a long, blue dress, which reflected her status as Queen of the Fairies. The costume De Jersey (Oberon) wore made him look quite powerful – his coat having a high collar and a long train. The Rude Mechanics’ costume indicated the working class status. All of the characters were clearly defined just by their costumes which visually assisted my understanding.
The set, whilst fundamentally an empty space occasionally utilised additional pieces, for example, Titania’s bower. This was a crescent shape suspended above the action and was quite effective as it reminded me that no matter what was going on, the fairies were present in some way. The orb, which represented the moon, hung from the ceiling and
unobtrusively moved on a 180’ trajectory. This constantly reminded me about the mystical qualities of the moon and its influence on nature and I think this is what Doran was trying to achieve.
The acting was very good with a range of skills being appropriately employed. My favourite was Dixon who portrayed Bottom by creating much humour through vocal, physical and non-verbal skills. His physicality was quite laid back and lazy and he led his body with his hips and never stood still. The way he moved on, off and around the stage was amusing – in control but in a laid back way. Bottom is one of the main sources of
comedy in the play and Dixon was the most comedic actor during the production I saw. Also, the use of visual humour while the Rude Mechanicals were performing the play within a play made it seem a lot more light-hearted like the whole moment with Snug stuck in the wall, which was crude but humorous.
Overall, the production was very good. Many of the ideas Doran wanted to convey were clearly communicated. Through seeing this production I appreciate the importance of visual impact but also feel that the success of the production was also due to good directorial decisions and well portrayed characters.