Vol. 9 No. 1 (Spring 1988)

ROBIN PHILLIPS' STRANGE AND WONDROUS DREAM

RICHARD PAUL KOWLES

Robin Phillips' 1976-77 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Stratford Festival has been one of the few since Peter Brook's 1970 production to carve out its own vision of the play. By mounting the production as a dream vision in the mind of Elizabeth I, Phillips discovered an extraordinary unity among the worlds of court and forest, and found analogies with the court of Elizabeth that brought out often neglected aspects of the play in a highly theatrical way.

La mise en scène par Robin Phillips du Songe d'une nuit d'été à Stratford en 1976-1977 représente l'une des rares réalisations, depuis celle de Peter Brook en 1970, qui ait offert une vision originale de cette pièce de Shakespeare. En montant la pièce sous forme d'une vision apparue à Elisabeth Ière, Phillips aurait découvert des parallèles frappants entre la cour et la forêt, et retrouvé des liens avec la Cour d'Elisabeth qui soulignent, de façon fort théâtrale, certains aspects de l'oeuvre jusque-là souvent négligés.

Productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream since 1970 have been notoriously difficult to mount for directors who wish to offer fresh readings of the play. After Peter Brook's famous 'white box' setting and circus atmosphere for his production of that year it has not been possible creditably to revert to the romantic and balletic style shown in pre-Brook productions, but neither has it been easy to compete with the image of Brook's crisp, uncluttered and athletic rendering of the play as it has become etched in the collective memory of the theatre going public. One of the very few productions successful in carving out its own vision of the play was that of Robin Phillips at Ontario's Stratford Festival in 1976 and 1977, in which Phillips deviated a little from his usual exploratory, nonconceptual practice to present a powerful and idiosyncratic interpretation of the play.1

Phillips' production was defined by its opening image. A shaft of pure white light picked out of a velvet blackness the figure of Elizabeth I, complete with ginger curls, a pale, drawn face, a richly caparisoned farthingale, and a starched, stiff neck ruff emprisoning her head. This visual image was accompanied by an amplified female voice singing what the prompt book for the production calls the 'Dream Madrigal,' made up of lines from Bottom's dream in IV.i:

I have had a most rare vision
A strange and wondrous dream
Past the wit of man to say what dream it was
Methought I was -
Methought I was -
Methought I loved -
Man is but a fool, a patched fool
if he offer to say what dream it was.

This powerfully theatrical opening established with economy and grace the two contexts, dream and Queen, within which Phillips asked his actors and audience to explore the play.

Oddly, the figure of Elizabeth and the filter of her consciousness humanized the play, and brought it closer to its audience. Alexander Leggatt remarked that, while the central device of the production 'was the sort of thing that sends academics swearing and muttering into the night,' it nevertheless

revealed something about the recognizable human tensions that lie beneath the artifice of the play, and about the dark world of mortality that the play's poetry touches on at certain points and that makes the happiness of the ending at once precious and fragile.2

By asking us to see the whole play as taking place within the imagination of Elizabeth I, moreover, Phillips had found a highly theatrical way to explore the play's insight that 'the illusory has its part in the total experience of reality,'3 or, as Harold Pinter was quoted in the programme as having said, 'there are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false.'

Phillips' selection of lines from Bottom's dream as a framework for the production - the madrigal was sung again at the end - was inspired by the insight that art itself is one of the ways, together with dream and memory, in which the illusory impinges on the real.4 The exploration of relationships among art, dream, and memory was central to the production. The result was such that one reviewer was reminded of  'the man who dreamed he was a butterfly and who, upon awakening, wondered if perhaps he was not a butterfly dreaming he was a man.'5 Another noted that 'a phrase hangs over the play like a beckoning slogan: "To say what dream it was,"' remarking on the difficulty in 'specifying the dream, narrating it so its fact and fiction can be separated and clearly understood.'6 Phillips sustained the exploration beyond the play as written, when in 1976 he did away with the traditional curtain call, but brought the cast to the lobby where, still in costume, they greeted the departing audience. The device was effective, and was missed in 1977, when, according to Phillips, some of the cast would not agree to it.

In the programmes for both years Phillips drew attention to the theory that the Dream was first performed at a noble wedding in the 1590s, with Elizabeth herself in attendance. In both programme and production he emphasized the play's masque-like qualities as a reflection of the court. He found, moreover, occasional analogies to the play's reflections and distortions of contemporary reality. In 1976, his Bottom and Titania were played by Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, who are among the theatre world's most celebrated married couples; and in 1977 Phillips chose this court masque of the first Elizabeth to open Stratford's twenty-fifth anniversary season, timing the opening to coincide with the official opening of the Silver jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. Further explorations of the play as mirror resulted from its being in repertory, in 1976, with The Tempest, a play frequently seen as a late-Shakespearean analogue to the Dream; and in 1977 with Romeo and Juliet, seen by some scholars, one of whom was quoted in the programme, as the play parodied by Peter Quince and company's 'Pyramus and Thisbe.' None of these reflections were lost on reviewers.

The use of Elizabeth I as a filter through which to watch the play was particularly apposite, exploring as it did the tension between the queen and the woman, the image of Gloriana and her private anguish. As the programme note reminded us, 'she was a young girl flirting with love and a great queen commanding it. She was Gloriana and she was a faded, ageing woman, desperately lonely.' Phillips probed these contradictions and, not so incidentally, many of the most pressing questions of the relationships between the sexes that concern us now, by treating the play's plots as varying perspectives on Elizabeth's life and court, in which the characters become variatons on Elizabeth herself and her familiars.

Elizabeth was played by Jessica Tandy in 1976 and by Maggie Smith in the 1977 revival, each doubling as Hippolyta and Titania in the play proper. The parts of Theseus and Oberon, and other corresponding members of the court and fairy kingdoms, were also doubled, all reflecting the dreams, memories and nightmares of the queen. The result was to emphasise, not only the multiplicity of reflecting images in the play, but its darker side as well. Phillips took his cue from The Horizon Book of the Elizabethan World, which was quoted extensively in the 1976 programme, and which he asked the actors to read. The book describes Elizabeth's court as one of petty jealousies, patronage, and manipulation. It also treats at some length Elizabeth's awareness of the problems of royal courting, and her early realization that 'only in lonely virginity could she ever hope to rule her jealous subjects.'7 On one level, then, the production became, as Eric Salmon said,

an ageing, unmarried queen's half-regretful, half-fearful, half-hopeful dream of the properties and the realities of power and dominance, submission and responsiveness, of the meeting of the male and female elements in the world of kings and rulers, both mortal and immortal.8

Elizabeth as Hippolyta was an unhappy captive at Theseus' court. As Titania she was, in 1976, representative of the old queen's erotic fantasies, while in 1977, played by a younger actor, she was a romanticised memory of the queen's youth. In both years, however, the wrangling between Titania and Oberon exemplified male dominance as a threat to the delicate beauty of art, love, and the imaginative realm.

In 1976 Jessica Tandy's Hippolyta was reminiscent of the Elizabeth of The Armada portrait (1585), while Maggie Smith, in 1977, looked more like the younger queen of the portrait painted by Hilliard in 1575.9 As Titania, with her hair down and wearing loose, flowing muslin, Smith seemed younger still, 'a magical Titania that the Queen could never have been save in her imagination.'10 Helena, played by Denise Ferguson in 1976 and Martha Henry in 1977, presented yet another version of Elizabeth, the young Bess of precoronation days, wearing, in the scenes at court, costumes virtually identical to those of Hippolyta. In 1977 the suggestion was taken further: Domini Blythe's Hermia, with pursed lips and a red-gold wig, resembled Elizabeth's cousin and rival, the young Mary Stuart,11 giving an extra frisson to Helena's lines,

So we grew together
Like to a double cherry, seeming parted
But yet an union in partition,
Two lovely berries moulded on one stem
So with two seeming bodies but one heart,
Two of the first, like coats in heraldry,
Due but to one, and crowned with one crest.
                                                                    (111.2.208-214)

Several reviewers found justification for this interpretation in the coincidence that 'Mary' derives from the Greek 'Hermia.' Whatever the justification, the lovers' quarrel, too, was given an extra edge by the analogy.

The rest of the cast was similarly suggestive. Jeremy Brett's Theseus / Oberon in 1976 reminded reviewers of Essex, while Barry MacGregor in 1977 was perhaps more likely to conjure the image of the Earl of Leicester.12 Tom Kneebone's Puck/court jester in 1976 reminded one critic of Will Somers;13 and in 1977 Lewis Gordon's Puck appropriately doubled as Philostrate, Master of the Revels, and as such he resembled Elizabeth's advisor Burghley as pictured in The Horizon Book of the Elizabethan World. Burghley is there suggestively described as 'the artful stage manager for Elizabeth's equally artful performance in the role of Gloriana.'14Finally, the fairies who carried Titania onstage in her litter in 1976, echoing the famous painting attributed to Robert Peake of Elizabeth in her palanquin,15 doubled as courtiers in the Theseus / Hippolyta scenes. One wondered if 'Cobweb', 'Moth', 'Mustardseed', and 'Peaseblossom' were really very far removed from Elizabeth's pet names for her advisors, 'Eyes', 'Mutton', 'Bellwether', and 'Pygmy'.16

All of this suggests a distractingly rigorous allegorical scheme, but such was not the case. As Eric Salmon said,

executed with less verve, less authority, less sureness and only a little more pedantry and dogmatic insistence on a more rigid schematization, it could easily have been intellectually obscure, aesthetically pretentious and theatrically dull. It was, in fact, vivid, vital and exciting.17

It was so because the links were associative rather than allegorical, and while the elaborately Elizabethan costumes and setting created a shimmering, masque-like vision of Elizabeth's court, the period was interpreted deliberately loosely in order to encourage imaginative association rather than archeological identification. The balcony of the Festival stage was adorned with a frieze modelled on the work of Elizabethan woodcarver Grinling Gibbons, and the music included traditional English airs. But the set also accommodated sparkling tree lights and bean-bag cushions; the music included soft jazz and, in 1976, a dance with Latin-American rhythms; and the costumes ranged in period from 1580 to 1603. The designer, Susan Benson, eschewed accuracy of place as well as time, selecting for the men's costumes the more attractive Spanish cut at the top of the legs, while the women wore French rather than Elizabethan-style drum farthingales at court.18 The forest costumes were still freer in their interpretation of period, though they were basically mirror images in white of the black and gold costumes of the courtiers.

In 1977 the scheme of the production was softened to the extent that reviewer Ronald Bryden, who disapproved of the concept, commented that its'original weakness of premise ... scarcely matters,'19 and the design reflected this softening. Maggie Smith, who was intrigued by the 1976 production and asked to play Hippolyta/Titania in 1977,20 discarded the masque helmets, ghost images of one another, that were worn by Jessica Tandy. Smith as Titania wore a flowing white muslin dress in place of Tandy's more queenly and more rigid farthingale. While costumes for the other characters remained essentially the same over the two years, Phillips did ask for lighter materials to be worn under them in 1977, to allow for freer movement, and more flexibility than in 1976, when he had wanted to create for the actors and convey to the audience a sense of physical oppressiveness during the reign of Elizabeth.

Similarly the lighting design, which had presented a fairly conventional, naturalistic movement from day to night to day in 1976, underwent a major change toward the end of the rehearsal period in the following year, so that in 1977, as Michael J. Whitfield, lighting designer of the 1976 production, said, 'the labyrinth of the woods was really the labyrinth of the court.' The result was that reviewers commented on the uncertainty of time in a world whose so-called scenes of reality are also dreamlike.21

The Elizabethan framework, however, had never been so rigid as to reduce the play to an allegory about Elizabeth and her court; rather it provided another context within which to view the play, allowing the audience to see or sense new parallels among the plots, and new resonances in the lines. As Michael Crabb commented, 'it is unlike Phillips to intrude so much into Shakespeare, but he has managed it so deftly and with such utter assurance that one loves it even as one marvels at the liberties that have been taken.'22 Those liberties, though they did not extend to major alterations of the text, surprised many, and not everyone approved; but if the production was not always or uniformly successful, it provided some startling and illuminating moments.

* * *

When the lights came up after the opening vision, they revealed a large assemblage of court ladies, all of whom visually resembled Elizabeth/Hippolyta. When Theseus entered to them with his all- male entourage, the men and women faced one another in a tense diagonal across the Festival stage, an image that defined the tone of the scenes at court. Theseus was a stern, 'brutally masculine'23 figure in both years, and his 'I wooed thee with my sword, / And won thy love during thee injuries' was operative: this Hippolyta was captive to a Theseus whose every line was a command: 'this, it was implied, was how the Virgin Queen saw a husband, whatever fantasies about lovers she might entertain when she took on the persona of Titania.'24 Even his 'I will wed thee in another key: / With pomp, with triumph, and with revelling,' carried with its stern tone an implicit 'whether you will or no.'

Set against this oppressive, masculine authority was Hippolyta's subtle assertion of independence, and the delicately suggested 'solidarity' among the women. Hippolyta turned her back on Theseus when he announced his plans for the night of their solemnities. Throughout the scene she registered delicate mockery of his posturing; on his 'come, my Hippolyta,' she kept him waiting; and his 'what cheer, my love' registered impatience at his having to wait upon her will. When she finally moved, it was in her own time, slowly crossing the stage to curtsy before him in mock obedience before exiting, again slowly. Prior to this, Theseus' outline of Hermia's options - obedience to her father's will, death, or'withering on the virgin thorn' - gained an extra resonance from the presence of the Virgin Queen, and was used to establish links among the Elizabethan Amazons. Theseus' first references to Hermia's option to 'objure forever the society of men' elicited what the promptbook called a 'crafty look' of complicity among the ladies. As Theseus continued, describing in less than attractive terms the pleasures of the convent, Hermia fixed her gaze steadily on Hippolyta who registered sympathy and an almost conspiratorial understanding.25

It is not surprising that in this interpretation Theseus' great speech on the power of the imagination was cut in 1976, and given to Hippolyta in 1977. Theseus could not have the requisite insight into Elizabeth's dream that the speech would have implied, and of course the realm of the imagination was in this production feminine. The loss of the speech was a major weakness in the 1976 production, but one for which amends were made in the revival. As Maggie Smith's Hippolyta spoke both her own lines and those of her consort, she articulated clearly the power of art and the imagination to transfigure reality and grow to 'something of great constancy.' When Theseus stalked off to bed alone at the end of the play, leaving Elizabeth to complete her vision, it scarcely mattered: his daylight world of masculine, usurped authority had been transcended.

* * *

The court and the fairy kingdoms, visually, were negative images of one another, opposite and complementary in their respective black and white. The quarrel between Titania and Oberon, then, became an extension of the tension between the sexes at Theseus' court, 'an example,' as reviewer Richard Christiansen said, 'of harsh male dominance threatening the sweet beauties of art and human affection.'26 Roger Warren noted that the words 'enforced chasity' (IIIJ-195), 'seemed more ambiguous than usual, fusing fears of rape with the extra idea of Elizabeth being compelled to remain chaste,' and he remarked that Titania's athletic male attendants, Cobweb and company, were 'exactly the kind of sensuous youths that Elizabeth might have had hot dreams about.'27 The fairies, Oberon and Titania and their attendants, were played by the same actors as the courtiers, and this, as Alexander Leggatt indicated, was effective in an unusual way:

it showed the fairies as a court, with all the tensions, squabbling and jealousy that a court can breed. Oberon's desire to torment his queen acquired an edge of angry excitement, for behind the figure of Oberon was a frustrated court favourite. Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth and Mustardseed were not capering children but adult courtiers, and when presented to Bottom as the new favourite, they showed polite resentment.28

The Horizon Book of the Elizabethan World describes the court of Elizabeth as one 'filled with quarrelsome, hotheaded children who passed as adults,' and the production's programme quoted several critics who emphasise the sinister capacities of the fairies in similar terms. It was clear that quarrels among these fairies, as among the courtiers of Elizabeth, could indeed shake the world, and this was as it should be. David Young points out that

Oberon is not harmless; he is a prince from the furthest steep of India, shadowy and exotic. Titania is a powerful force ... and Bottom is virtually her prisoner. The marital disturbances of these beings affect ... the natural cycles ... .29

Phillips did not ignore the other, more familiar side of the fairies, however, and in fact drew upon another aspect of the Elizabethan household to emphasise it. The First Fairy, whose scene with Puck in II.i is so often cut in production, appeared here as a fairy 'charlady, scrubbing the stage.'This, as Leggatt remarked, was 'at first surprising':

But then we noticed how much of the imagery of the scene is drawn from household chores and domestic life generally; a seemingly mischievous production decision had revealed something about the closeness of the fairies to ordinary mortals.30

It was, in fact, the recognizably human qualities of the fairies, attractive and unattractive, that Phillips' bold presentation of their world as a court brought out, and while this elicited some criticism - Berners Jackson in Shakespeare Quarterly felt that 'the fairy world [was] obliterated beyond even the power of Shakespeare's lines to recreate'31 - the ultimate effect was the positive one of bringing the play closer to its audience.

Phillips also brought out two sides of Puck, who, as we have seen, doubled as court jester in 1976 and as Philostrate in 1977. Both as jester and as old and trusted Master of the Revels the doubling revealed a side of the character that associated him with the Elizabethan household - and it was with Puck alone that we saw the fairy charlady. But in the forest Puck revealed his darker side. Critics since Jan Kott have pointed out the dangerous, malevolent side of Puck, Kott going so far as to find him 'devilish.' 'Puck,' he says, 'has simply been one of the names for the devil.32 Tom Kneebone, in a pre-production interview in 1976, concurred: 'He's malicious ... he's a bit of a voyeur ... we're bringing out that side of him.' Elsewhere Kneebone drew attention to what he called 'diabolical elements in the character.'33 As henchman for Oberon in the forest, then, Puck was agent of a potentially more serious kind of confusion that the customary naughtiness promotes, and when we saw him as trusted friend and confidant of Elizabeth, there was a suggestion of the kind of influence and espionage that were common in the court of Gloriana. Kneebone remarked that as court jester Puck 'was in a position where he could watch everybody and see who was in favor and who was out. And a word from him might make the difference.'34 In 1977, when Lewis Gordon's Puck / Philostrate was so reminiscent of Burghley, the suggestion of influence was more clear. As Puck, as jester, and as Master of the Revels, Kneebone and Gordon played potentially beneficient but potentially unpleasant manipulators of the illusion that was the dream, and Puck's presence was not always reassuring. He delivered his 'now the hungry lion roars' speech in V.i. (361-80) facing Elizabeth, as a reminder of her mortality,35 and in the epilogue, in which he asked the audience to think of the play as their dream, he did the same for us.

* * *

Phillips' treatment of the lovers reinforced his concept, provided some uproarious entertainment, and included several illuminating moments. The presentation of Helena was based, as reviewers noted, on the sexual frustrations and insecurities of the young Queen Elizabeth, and in 1977, as we have seen, the shadow of Mary Stuart behind the figure of Hermia lent a disturbing edge to the proceedings.

Those scenes involving the lovers in the forest were presented farcically, and were very funny. In 1976 the quarrelling was a remarkably physical exchange of slaps, pinches, and acrobatics, with Demetrius and Lysander forced to restrain Hermia by sitting on her; in 1977 the knockabout was even more extensive. Like all good farce, however, this was not without its undercurrent of fear, pain, and potential chaos, and in the flurry of praise from reviewers for the hilarity of these scenes, the odd voice commented that 'a cruelty enters the taunting of Helena.'36 Similarly, Alexander Leggatt describes Phillips' invention in bringing out the darker side of Lysander's desertion of Hermia:

At the end of II.ii ... Lysander leaves the stage in pursuit of Helena, and Hermia wakes from a bad dream in which "Methought a serpent eat my heart away, / And you sat smiling at his cruel prey'. ... in the text, she does not speak till he is offstage; but in Robin Phillips' 1976 production ... Lysander was only just leaving as Hermia began to speak. She spoke out of her sleep, in a slow moan; he watched her as he left, and heard her first words, 'Help me Lysander, help me! do thy best / To pluck this crawling serpent from my breast!' (Il.ii.145-6) - but they delayed him only a moment. The painfulness of the situation, the betrayal and desertion, were strikingly emphasized.37

This wood's confusion was, if beneficial in ultimate effect, often disturbing for the audience, and the staging emphasized the confusion. It is a commonplace of Shakespeare criticism that the lovers in the Dream are practically interchangeable, and in most productions casting, costuming, and business are arranged to emphasize their individuality. Phillips, however, chose rather to draw attention to the characters' uniformity, by dressing them almost identically.38 The chase 'up and down' through the forest was a brilliantly staged emblem of confusion, as the lovers, conducted by Puck and the fairies, leapt after one another in and out of spots of light which picked them for a second or two at a time out of the darkness. This brief sequence, which lasted only a few moments on the stage, took up two full pages in the production's cue sheet, and involved thirty lighting cues. At the end of the scene, when it came time to administer the antidote to Lysander, neither Puck nor Oberon was certain which of the men he was.

For all this, however, our sense of the power of love was enhanced rather than diminished by the scenes. Reviewers commented on Lysander's broad grin as he showed Demetrius the hand that Helena had slapped, delighted to be touched in whatever fashion by his love. Helena wiped her hand after it had been kissed by a suitor in what she believed to be a mockery. And Lysander rose uncannily from the ground when awakened by Helena, his eyes fixed to her face, apparently drawn to his feet by the very sight of her. But all of these examples were of false, and ultimately destructive love. Like other powers in the play, love was seen to have its negative side.

* * *

Phillips' production was kept down to earth, as any production of the Dream must be, by his mechanicals, and it was in their scenes, appropriately, that he most clearly exercised his ability to create around a group of characters a coherent and complete society. Their first scene (I.ii) took place in a crowded Elizabethan market, in the presence of townspeople and the implements of their trades: a grindstone, a woodenwheeled bellows cart (with squeaky bellows), a toolbox, pots and pans, a leather fabric bag, a wool blanket, and, more surprisingly, a tambourine. The townspeople cheered and laughed as the parts were handed out to the 'actors,' and in 1977 Bottom pulled a wench from the crowd as a prop for his 'Ercles' speech, swirling her about the stage and kissing her gallantly at the end. It was, as reviewer Jay Carr wrote, 'a good stroke that implies the rooting of the play's festive elements in the Elizabethan community.'39 One wondered only in retrospect, if at all, what these scenes were doing in a dream of Queen Elizabeth.

The real focus of the scenes, however, was Bottom, played by Hume Cronyn in 1976 and Alan Scarfe in 1977 as 'a querulous old ass'40 who as as perfect a foil for the ethereal Titania as the exceptionally crudely-played 'Pyramus and Thisbe' was for the Phillips' own ethereal Dream. In many ways the scenes between Bottom and Titania were the highlights of the production. Reviewers in 1977 were almost unanimous in their praise for Maggie Smith's performance in these scenes. She played them, not for laughs, but as 'pure romance,' creating 'enchantment in every sense,' and made them 'oddly moving because of the honesty and conviction with which her Titania reveres this braying ass of a creature.'41 The disjunctiveness of the scenes was by no means diminished by the romance. The disapproval shown by Cobweb, Moth and company toward their mistress' entertainment of so obviously inferior a creature was clear; and B.A. Young claimed that in 1977 Titania's 'astonished pause when Bottom meets her offer of music with a request for the tongs and bones' was 'one of the fullest seconds of time I ever went through in the theatre.'42 Bottom's asinine behaviour - his 'Nay' at the end of the song in III.i.126 came out as a bray, and he pawed the ground with one 'hind foot' - made certain that we never lost sight of the incongruity of the relationship.43

Bottom's full humanity, and his major contribution to the production, surfaced most clearly during his 'Bottom's Dream' speech (IV.i.203-216), which was of course replete with echoes of the 'Dream Madrigal' that had opened the show. He delivered the speech from stage centre, where Elizabeth had stood at the opening, and he avoided a purely comic rendering of the lines in order to capture and convey their sense of wonder. His vision had been 'most rare' indeed, and it effectively prepared us for the rounding out of Elizabeth's dream, and our own, at the conclusion of the production.

* * *

The last movement of Phillips' Dream began as the courtiers arranged themselves in couples, bowing and exiting to the strains of the 'Dream Madrigal,' the war of the sexes seemingly resolved, and the production brought full circle. Only Theseus, Hippolyta, Philostrate/Puck, and the four lovers remained, and all but Hippolyta and Puck left the stage on Theseus' line, 'Sweet friends, to bed.' Puck spoke his 'hungry lion' speech (V.i.361) to Elizabeth/Hippolyta, whose 'troubled, solitary eyes' - one reviewer saw a tear roll down her cheek - suggested both Elizabeth's isolation and her sense of loss. Jay Carr remarked that 'having joined the nocturnal caperings, she has glimpsed the dark side of the moon, and perhaps of her own nature.'44 The 'presence of the sun' in Puck's speech referred to Elizabeth, and she looked sadly, wistfully toward him on that line. The blessing of the palace by Oberon and Titania was relayed over speakers, and 'as Oberon's voice referred to "the issue there create," [Elizabeth's] hand moved to her childless womb.'45 She then crossed the stage to place her hand on Puck's head before making her final exit. In spite of the resolution of the play's lovers into couples, we were left with this image of the ageing, barren Elizabeth, 'an old woman,' as Richard Eder wrote, 'who loved men but who married power and loneliness.'46

After the exit of his mistress, Puck stepped forward to deliver his epilogue, and the subdued, pensive tone was held to the end. As he spoke, the actress who had played the First Fairy entered as a human charlady in Elizabeth's household, the theatre, and began once again to scrub the floor. Her dream, too, was over. In 1976, when there was no curtain call, she remained onstage throughout the applause and the departure of the audience, the illusion blending back into everyday reality: 'the cleaning staff were at work. The play was over.'47

* * *

The production was an unusual one for Phillips, whose method is most often exploratory, in that the imposition of a directorial concept was so prominent, and it must be said that the experiment was not entirely successful. There were many moments, particularly in the scenes involving the mechanicals, when the action simply didn't make sense as a product of Elizabeth's imagination. There were other places where the concept was confusing, or irrelevant. Ronald Bryden, as we have seen, felt that the production worked in its second year in spite of the setting, and Ralph Berry felt that the idea, 'admissable as a director's conceit,' was 'nonsense' as an interpretation of the play. In 1977, he wrote, 'the concept is Maggie Smith.'48 Several reviewers, indeed, felt that '[Maggie Smith's] personality broods over the play' in 1977, for some 'conveying a sense of wonder and mystery,' for others throwing the production out of balance: 'the play is not about her.'49 But there is little doubt that, though there were jarring moments, the conceit provided an extraordinary unity among the worlds of court and forest, and that the analogies with Elizabeth's court helped to bring out often neglected aspects of the play. Even reviewers such as Bryden and Berry who dismissed the concept as irrelevant or nonsensical found much to admire in the production. Most agreed that Phillips succeeded in exploring more than one dimension of the play, and that he did so in a characteristically fresh, visually striking, and brilliantly theatrical way. For those still bothered by 'directors who stick extra bits on to a perfectly shaped play,'50 another reflection of contemporary reality leapt out of the play on its last line:

Give me your hands if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

NOTES

1 For a description and analysis of Phillips' exploratory rehearsal process, see RICHARD PAUL KNOWLES 'Robin Phillips: Text and Context' Canadian Theatre Review 52 (Fall 1987), p 50-57
I am grateful to Robin Phillips, Susan Benson, Michael J. Whitfield, Martha Henry, Domini Blythe, Rod Beattie, Dan Ladell, Alexandra Cushing and Jan Kudelka for agreeing to be interviewed; quotations not otherwise acknowledged are from these interviews. I am also grateful to Alexander Leggatt for reading and commenting on an earlier draft of this article.
Return to article

2 ALEXANDER LEGGATT 'The Extra Dimension: Shakespeare in Performance' Mosaic 10, #3 (1977) p 48-9
Return to article

3 STANLEY WELLS, Introduction to A Midsummer Night's Dream, New Penguin Edition (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1967) p 34 This was the acting edition used for the production, and the one on which the promptbook was based. All quotations are from the promptbook; references are to this edition.
Return to article

4 MARJORIE B. GARBER in Dream in Shakespeare, From metaphor to Metamorphosis (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974) p 78, remarks that 'a ... central incident for the play as a whole and one crucial to the question of art as transformation, is the recapitulation of "Bottom's Dream".'
Return to article

5 MYRON GALLOWAY Montreal Star 11 June 1977
Return to article

6 KEVIN KELLY The Boston Globe 8 June 1977
Return to article

7 The Horizon Book of the Elizabethan World (New York: American Heritage, 1976) p 76
Return to article

8 ERIC SALMON 'The 1976 Season at Stratford, Ontario' Queen's Quarterly 84 Spring 1977 p 34-5
Return to article

9 See The Horizon Book on the Elizabethan World p 274, and ROY STRONG The Elizabethan Image: Painting in England, 1540-1620, Tate Gallery Exhibition Catalogue (London: The Tate Gallery, 1969) p 44 The latter volume was used by Susan Benson in designing the costumes for the productin. The Hilliard portrait is reproduced in the 1976 programme, and a photograph of Maggie Smith in the 1977 programme bears a striking resemblance to it. A reproduction of Benson's costume design for Hippolyta in the 1976 programme bears an equally close resemblance to the Ermine portrait of Elizabeth by William Segar, reproduced in The Horizon Book of the Elizabethan World p 103
Return to article

10 B.A. YOUNG Plays and Players August 1977, p 37
Return to article

11 See 7he Horizon Book of the Elizabethan World p 228 Domini Blythe, in an interview with the author, confirmed that she had been asked to play Hermia as Mary Stuart.
Return to article

12 This, too, was not entirely unprecedented in criticism: ANN BARTON makes the comparison in her Introduction to the play in The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evan (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974) p 218
Return to article

13 JAY CARR The Detroit News 24 August 1976
Return to article

14 The Horizon Book of  the Elizabethan World p 80 That the connection is not merely incidental is evidenced by the fact that the Philostrate costume was used for Burghley in the Festival's 1982 production of Mary Stuart.
Return to article

15 See STRONG p 41; The Horizon Book of the Elizabethan World p 90-91
Return to article

16 The Horizon Book of the Elizabethan World p 78
Return to article

17 SALMON p 35
Return to article

18 The Spanish cut at the top of the leg slants diagonally up the outside of the leg, while the English cut squares out from the crotch. Similarly, the French farthingale slants more smoothly from the waist than the appropriately named drum farthingale in use in England.
Return to article

19 RONALD BRYDEN Maclean's 11 July 1977, p 58
Return to article

20 See CHARLES POPE Scene Changes 5 no 5, June-July 1977, p 13-14
Return to article

21 RICHARD EDER The New York Times 26 June 1977; and JAMIE PORTMAN Southam News Service 7 June 1977
Return to article

22 MICHAEL CRABB 'Stratford's jubilee Season: 25 Years On' Performing Arts in Canada 14, no 3 (Fall 1977) p 31
Return to article

23 RALPH BERRY 'Stratford Festival Canada' Shakespeare Quarterly 29, no 2 (Spring 1978) p 225
Return to article

24 ROGER WARREN 'Comedies and Histories at Two Stratfords, 1977' Shakespeare Survey 31 (1978) 143. Warren makes similar comments on the production in his A Midsummer Night's Dream: Text and Performance (London: Macmillan Press, 1983) p 62-6
Return to article

25 I have drawn in this paragraph on ANNE FIZZARD 'Robin Phillips' Production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at Stratford, Ontario, 1976-77,' unpublished honours B.A. thesis, Mount Allison University 1983 p 57-8
Return to article

26 RICHARD CHRISTIANSEN Palm Beach Times (West Palm Beach, Florida) 24 June 1977
Return to article

27 WARREN p 143
Return to article

28 LEGGATT p 48
Return to article

29 DAVID YOUNG Something of Great Constancy: The Art of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966) p 29
Return to article

30 LEGGATT p 45
Return to article

31 BERNERS A. JACKSON 'Stratford Festival Canada' Shakespeare Quarterly 28, no 2 (Spring 1977) p 205
Return to article

32 JAN KOTT Shakespeare Our Contemporary (London: Methuen, 1967) p 171 See also DAVID YOUNG p 28
Return to article

33 TOM KNEEBONE, quoted by DOUG BALE The Free Press (London, Ontario) 14 August 1976; and PAMELA CORNELL The Beacon Herald (Stratford, Ontario) 18 August 1976
Return to article

34 Quoted by BALE The Free Press, 14 August 1976
Return to article

35 LEGGATT notices this p 48-9
Return to article

36 GINA MALLETT The Toronto Star 18 June 1977
Return to article

37 LEGGATT p 42
Return to article

38 ANN BARTON in her introduction to the play in The Riverside Shakespeare once again provides critical precedent for this: the lovers, she says, 'are only slightly individualized, not because Shakespeare was incapable at this stage of fuller characterization, but because he obviously wished to distance the lovers, subordinating them to the total pattern of the play ... . They present a deliberately generalized picture of love's unreason, a state governed less by individual disposition than by the madness appropriate to a particular time of life as well as of the year.' (p 218)
Return to article

39 JAY CARR The Detroit News 7 June 1977
Return to article

40 JOHN FRASER The Globe and Mail 19 August 1976
Return to article

41 MARTIN KNELMAN Saturday Night July/August 1977 p 66; WARREN p 143; PORTMAN 7 June 1977
Return to article

42 B.A. YOUNG Me Financial Times 14 June 1977
Return to article

43 Hume Cronyn and Joy Allan, who made the donkey's head, both went to Pat Galloway's farm in 1976 to study the movements, mannerisms, and vocal attributes of Galloway's donkey, Eeyore. See PAMELA CORNELL The Beacon Herald (Stratford) 30 August 1976
Return to article

44 JAY CARR The Detroit News 24 August 1976. The reviewer who saw the tear was DAVE STEARNS Rochester Times- Union 11 June 1976
Return to article

45 WARREN p 143
Return to article

46 RICHARD EDER The New York Times 8 June 1977
Return to article

47 LEGGATT p 49
Return to article

48 BERRY p 22
Return to article

49 ELLIOT NORTON The Herald American (Boston) 8 June 1977; LAWRENCE DEVINE The Detroit Free Press 8 June 1977
Return to article

50 LEGGATT p 49
Return to article

APPENDIX: PRODUCTION INFORMATION

1976
A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Stratford Festival, Festival Stage
Opened 10 June 1976
Directed by Robin Phillips
Designed by Susan Benson
Music by Alan Laing
Lighting by Michael J. Whitfield
Stage Manager Colleen Stephenson
 
Hippolyta/Titania 
Theseus/Oberon 
Hermia 
Egeus 
Demetrius 
Lysander 
Helena 
Philostrate 
Bottom 
Snug 
Quince 
Flute 
Snout 
Starveling 
Puck 
1st Fairy 
Peaseblossom 
Cobweb 
Moth 
Mustardseed 
Court Ladies, Gentlemen and Attendants 
Jessica Tandy 
Jeremy Brett 
Mia Anderson 
William Needles 
Richard Partington 
Nick Mancuso 
Denise Ferguson 
Jack Roberts 
Hume Cronyn 
Bernard Hopkins 
Rod Beattie 
Richard Whelan 
Larry Lamb 
Dorian (Joe) Clark 
Tom Kneebone 
Jan Kudelka 
Gregory Wanless 
Bob Baker 
Stephen Russell 
Daniel Buccos 
Bob Baker, Paul Batten, 
Robert Benson, Wally Bondarenko, Daniel Buccos, Paul Butt, Martin Donlevy, Frances Fagan, David Fox-Brenton, John Goodlin, Don Goodspeed, Don Hunkin, Stuart Hutchinson, Peter Hutt, Patricia Idlette, Gerald Isaac, Joel Kenyon, William Merton Malmo, Robin Nunn, Stephen Russell, Nathan Scott, Andrew Skidd, Barbara Stephen, Cathy Wallace, Gregory Wanless. 
 
1977
A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Stratford Festival, Festival Stage
Opened 6 June 1977
Directed by Robin Phillips
Designed by Susan Benson
Music by Alan Laing, additional music by Berthold Carriere
Lighting by Gil Wechsler
Stage Manager Colleen Stephenson
 
Hippolyta / Titania 
Theseus / Oberon 
Hermia 
Egeus 
Demetrius 
Lysander 
Helena 
Philostrate / Puck 
Bottom 
Snug 
Quince 
Flute 
Snout 
Starveling 
First Fairy 
Cobweb 
Moth 
Peaseblossom 
Mustardseed 
Singers 
Court Ladies, Gentlemen, and Attendants 
Maggie Smith 
Barry MacGregor 
Domini Blythe 
William Needles 
Jack Wetherall 
Stephen Russell 
Martha Henry 
Lewis Gordon 
Alan Scarfe 
Bernard Hopkins 
Rod Beattie 
Richard Whelan 
Richard Curnock 
Frank Maraden 
Barbara Budd 
Bob Baker 
Keith Batten 
Robin Nunn 
Robert Ruttan 
Cathy Wallace, Dorian (Joe) Clark 
Stewart Arnott, Bob Baker, Rodger Barton, Keith Batten, Robert Benson, Walt Bondarenko, Peter Brikmanis, Jennifer Dale, Margot Dionne, Martin Donevy, Frances Fagan, Don Goodspeed, Peter Hutt, Stephen Hunter, Patricia Idlette, Gerald Isaac, Alicia Jeffery, Joel Kenyon, Barbara Maczka, F. Braun McAsh, Colin Rand MacPherson, Francesca Mallin, William Merton Malmo, Robin Nunn, Robert Ruttan, Robert Selkirk, Barbara Stephen, Frank C. Sweezey, Elias Zarou 

Richard Paul Knowles
Mount Allison University