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Picture of the Month - June 2012

In anticipation of Midsummer, we're looking at Malcolm Davies's photograph of Titania's bower from Adrian Noble's 1994 production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream".

Helen Hargest
malcolm davies collection picture of the month
Malcolm Davies Collection © Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

We are approaching Midsummer; a cause for celebration in the Elizabethan calendar. As with May Day and Twelfth Night, it was a time of Misrule, when the usual social constraints of the period were turned on their head. Midsummer night was a magical time, enhanced by the long hours of daylight. And in his play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare employed magical thinking as he moved “between the city and the wood, day and night, reason and imagination, waking life and dream”. (Jonathan Bate; Introduction to the RSC edition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream).

During the twentieth century, stage designs for the play became increasingly abstract, none more so than Peter Brook’s 1970 production. Designed by Sally Jacobs, the set was a three-sided white box, lit continually by a white light, and emphasising the artificiality of the theatrical medium. This was far removed from the traditional wooded glade of Victorian stagings. Influenced in part by Peter Brooks’ earlier staging, in 1994 Adrian Noble chose a box set for his particular vision of the play: a world of dreaming and sleep. June’s Picture of the Month, photographed by Malcolm Davies, shows Titania’s bower: a vast, upturned umbrella lined with red quilt, and winking light bulbs representing starlight. Both Adrian Noble and Anthony Ward, the designer, were influenced by René Magritte, the Belgian surrealist painter, who depicted ordinary objects from the real world in new unfamiliar ways. The bare set was lit with colours that represented Athens (scarlet) and the enchanted wood (indigo), which achieved a fluidity of action whilst maintaining the illusion of being in the midst of a dream.

Reviewing the production in The Observer on 7th August 1994, Michael Coveney commented that Titania’s bower was “a brilliant scenic invention by designer Anthony Ward. Ward and Noble create overlaps in a way that eluded even Brook and his designer, Sally Jacobs.” This is just one of many wonderful set design photographs held in our collections.