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Judi Dench in A Midsummer Night's Dream: Press views

Dame Judi Dench as Titania. Photo: Nobby Clark

Dame Judi Dench is reunited with Sir Peter Hall in his new production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, at the Rose Theatre, in Kingston-upon-Thames.

Dame Judi reprises her role as Titania, Queen of the Fairies - almost 50 years after she first played her for the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC).

Sir Peter's latest production is set in Elizabethan England, and portrays Titania as Elizabeth I, who is in love with the theatre.


Hall's latest production of A Midsummer Night's Dream is exquisitely well judged in its light-footed, lucid, poetically persuasive, wonderfully funny and brilliantly well-spoken way.

The idea is that Dench is Elizabeth I, who evidently fancies moonlighting as the Queen of the Fairies in addition to her capacity as Queen of England. In a short, wordless prequel, she sweeps into a room where the Elizabethan actors are preparing, snatches up a part-script and signals that the performance proper may begin.

It must be marvellous for the younger members of this great company to have such a great speaker of verse to emulate. Dench can send a thrill of wonder through a line of Shakespeare like wind rippling through a field of wheat.


In Titania's great speech on the disastrous consequences of climate change, your hear Dench's voice perceptibly harden when she tells how "the childing autumn, angry winter change their wonted liveries." I've also never seen a Titania more vocally and spiritually enraptured by the transformed Bottom.

Dench's voice seems to caress the air as she breathily cries "I pray thee, gentle mortal, sing again." And, after a night spent with the ass, Dench skips and skitters around with post-coital glee and giggles delightedly at her loved one's every jest. Without any of the physical explicitness you sometimes find in modern productions, Dench simply conveys the ecstasy and ardour of a brief, if misplaced, passion.


At the start [Dench] is seen as the red-wigged Elizabeth in all her pomp, silently ordering bowing courtiers to begin a performance of the Dream itself. Then, without changing her spangled dress, her Titania is bemoaning the treacherous weather and bringing queenly steel to the business of reproaching Charles Edwards's elegant grandee of an Oberon. But it's when she falls for Oliver Chris's transformed Bottom that Dench is at her hilarious best: Stroking his ass's head, rapturously murmuring "I love thee", and looking as enchanted as if she's personally sunk the entire Spanish Armada.


The last time Judi Dench played Titania for Peter Hall (in a mud-splattered 1969 film) she was virtually naked. And Diana Rigg played Helena.

Sir Peter's Rose Theatre revival sees Dame Judi, again as Titania, in full Elizabethan fig as a sprightly red-headed Gloriana, and Dame Di's daughter, Rachael Stirling, as a husky-voiced, lissome and sexually adventurous Helena.

In both cases, the performances are infinitely superior to their first versions, and Hall's production pullulates not only with wonderful verse speaking in this most musical of Shakespearean comedies, but also with a wisdom and spiritual generosity that can only come from age and experience.


If Shakespeare's setting is mythical Greece, Hall's staging is handsomely Elizabethan - black and silver costumes for the fairies, creamy whites for the lovers and rust shades for the nobles to match Queen Elizabeth's red wig. Indeed, Dench makes her first entrance as Gloriana, accepting a playbill before waving the actors to begin.

As the English queen she then returns to portray Titania, a part she first played for Hall at Stratford in 1962. Is she now too mature to be a lovelorn, passionate fairy?

Happily, the warmth of her stage personality and a light, youthful voice render this question irrelevant.

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