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A Midsummer Night's Dream

Production Notes for the March 23, 1954 staging of A Midsummer Night's Dream
by William Shakespeare, 1564-1616

Produced at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre (Stratford-upon-Avon, England)
Directed by George Devine
Sets and costumes by Margaret Harris

Accompanying Documents on the Production


Puck, "who wobbled bowlegged like a Simian, was dressed like a bird and equipped with claws," said the BIRMINGHAM MAIL (24 March 1954), [whose critic went on to write:] "Oberon too, wore a make-up which was irreconcilable with my sort of Fairyland. . . . Titania was not so much a fairy queen as a rather defiant little suburban wife."

"Queer, aquatic insects," the NEWS CHRONICLE (24 March 1954) called them. Bottom and the other mechanicals wore tunics and trousers of no particular period, but with Greek patterns painted on them.

[According to the] STRATFORD-ON-AVON Herald (26 March 1954), Margaret Harris dressed the upper-class mortals "as if they had just stepped off a Grecian urn." [But for] THE TIMES (24 March 1954), "[t]he production impresses with the good taste of the stage spectacle; it amuses with the richness of the drollery; still, it does not enchant."

Commentary by Michael Mullin

For the 1954 season [at Stratford-upon-Avon], Margaret Harris again designed sets and costumes for two of the five plays: "A Midsummer Night's Dream", directed by George Devine; and "Romeo and Juliet", directed by Glen Byam Shaw. Both, of course, were plays Motley had designed before, and audiences expected innovation. In neither case were the innovations wholly successful.

Comments of Margaret Harris

Adapting an earlier idea for the Young Vic production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream", Margaret Harris put a painted gauze a few feet in front of a back cloth, which was painted with stylized temples to represent Athens. Inspired by Paul Klee, the gauze represented the forest. Varied lighting made the gauze appear or disappear. "The trees were made of a wire frame covered with gauze and mesh, with leaves applied to it quite formally," Margaret Harris explained. "It looked like a painting."

More than the stylized settings, the music and the costumes for the fairies ran the risk of disappointing devotees of "the-romantic-ballet-opera" school who expected Mendelssohn's music, dainty fairies, glamorous Greeks, and clownish rustics. Instead of Mendelssohn, George Devine used music composed by Henry Boyes. "George Devine felt that Oberon and Titania are very unpleasant, cruel, nasty people," said Margaret Harris. "Why should they be surrounded by pretty little dainty fairies?" Oberon wore a net cloak covered in leaves. When he was supposed to disappear, he could turn his back, put his arms up over his head, and the cloak would spread out in the shape of one of the trees, so that he looked like another tree.

"I made Titania's four little fairies very grotesque," said Margaret Harris. "Cobweb was really like a little spider, and Mustard-seed was very spiky and nasty. We made them grotesque because of the names, and because of the things that they do and say."

The preceding text was taken from Michael Mullin, DESIGN BY MOTLEY (Newark, Delaware; University of Delaware Press, 1995). Copyright 1995, Michael Mullin. Reproduced by permission of the author.

Cast List

Anthony Quayle (Bottom), Vanessa Redgrave (Helena), Keith Michell (Theseus), Jean Wilson (Hyppolita), Tony Britton, Basil Hoskins, Leo McKern, Powys Thomas, Zena Walker.


THEATRICAL (SELECTIVE) REALISM (mortals) - created through the selective use of primary research material and careful arrangement of specific elements of a period (line, shape, color, and historic detail) so as to create the essence and impression of a period unencumbered by the minutia of extraneous details for dramatic purposes and theatrical effect. ABSTRACT FANTASY (fairies) - primarily inspired by ornithological research then adapted to the human form. Bird feathers, coloring, and head shapes are superimposed on the limbs, torso, and head of a human so as to create a creature of fantasy.


Archaic Greek (c. 500 BC) with Eastern Influence: Assyria, Persia, Phrygia.