A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
Stafford Festival Shakespeare, Stafford Castle, Thursday 11th July, 2013
Using the remains of the castle as a backdrop, the stage nestles into the bailey’s slopes and dips with a simple evocation of the forest and the palace of Theseus. Elegant pagodas are dotted around, the largest of which serves as a bandstand; as the audience arrive, the Mechanicals treat us to a light-hearted concert of Gilbert & Sullivan numbers. The setting is Edwardian and a little bit colonial but director Peter Rowe doesn’t labour the point. By keeping things simple, he allows the comedy of Shakespeare’s script to hold centrestage, proving you don’t need gimmicks and ‘clever’ reinterpretations to make a production accessible and effective.
Quite simply, it’s one of the funniest Dreams I’ve seen in a long while.
The ensemble of four young lovers is intensely presented. Hilarious when they’re under the influence of Oberon’s love-juice (sic) and rowdy when their passions are aroused, this quartet demonstrate physical comedy that belies the elegance and formality of their period costumes. Jennifer Greenwood is a fireball of a Hermia, contrasting with Georgina White’s neurotic Helena. Eamonn O’Dwyer is a poised, slightly stuffy Demetrius but it is Craig Fletcher’s dashing Lysander who gets most of the laughs.
As you’d expect, the Mechanicals are delightful. An affable bunch directed by Phylip Harries’s Quince, they prepare their production of Pyramus & Thisbe in the woods. Interestingly and very effectively, their version is a cod operetta, continuing the G & S motif. It works brilliantly, thanks to Greg Palmer’s musical direction and composition. James Haggie’s Thisbe is a scream, Paul Kissaun’s Lion is adorable (such a contrast between this actor’s Snug the joiner and his Egeus!) but of course, it is Bottom the weaver who dominates. Eric Potts shows himself to be a wonderful Shakespearean clown, stepping outside his customary role as pantomime dame. His Bottom is rounded, cheeky and pert.
Simone James is aloof as Hippolyta and graceful as Titania, followed by a troupe of fairies; the otherworldly aspects of the production are simply and stylishly achieved; the overall effect is magical. Robert Fitch’s Oberon is more commanding than his Theseus, but then the fairy king has mischief to be done. His servant Puck, for me, steals the show. Lanre Malaolu gives an excitable Puck, a ball of pent-up energy, a nifty little mover with some fine comic playing.
A dream of a Dream, then. Already I’m looking forward to hearing about next year’s production.