ReviewShakespeareShakespeare 400South West

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – New Theatre, Cardiff

Writer: William Shakespeare
Director:Erica Whyman
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

Since Shakespeare wrote ‘The Dream’ back in the 17thCentury innumerable directors have attempted – some successfully, others not – to put their own take on a fantasy world where nothing is quite as it seems. The Royal Shakespeare Company alone has performed the play innumerable times. Now the RSC’S deputy Artistic Director Erica Whyman offers her version of the story of a Midsummer’s night on which four young lovers find themselves in an enchanted forest where fairies rule under a feuding Fairy King and Queen and a clutch of commoners present a play within a play.

Those who have seen other productions by this iconic company might wonder what is unusual about yet another ‘Dreambut wait… Alongside 18 professional actors Whyman uses actors from local amateur groups – in this case, members of the admirable Everyman Theatre company – plus a clutch of local schoolchildren. While this Dream– billed as ‘A Play for the Nation’ and set (somewhat inexplicably) in a bombed-out theatre circa 1940) might not be everyone’s ideal, it is a tour de force on several fronts and makes a worthy and memorable contribution to the current Nationwide celebrations of the Bard.

The play opens at the court of Theseus, Duke of Athens, performed by a business-like Alex Tomkins, with Laura Harding as Queen Hippolyta. Harding’s Hippolyta is a country girl, never fazed by the extraordinary goings-on around her and always looking good, particularly in jodhpurs and boots and the stunning white evening gown she wears in the closing scenes. Much of the action is, of course, not at court but in a forest inhabited by fairies – which is where we are transported to watch the mix ups and the twists and turns as love runs far from smooth for two young couples and the antics in the fairy glen.

Holding it all together is the mischievous Puck, the fairy who delights in being naughty. Lucy Ellinson is a sheer delight in the role, bounding impishly across the stage, stylish in her black tights and tux-style outfit, she plays it Cabaret style: a Fairy Master of Ceremonies, as Puck concocts his wicked but harmless plans and weaves his magic to make them happen The RSC’s Sam Redford gives us a white-suited pop-style Oberon, King of the Fairies attempting reconciliation with his Titania, – a sexy red-gowned Fairy Queen, played by Ayesha Dharker who manages to lie in what must surely be great discomfort on top of a grand piano for a considerable length of time.

A major ingredient and perhaps most enjoyable is the side-splitting play by the Mechanicals, the group of artisans led by the irreprehensible and irrepressible Bottom, played with panache and evident enjoyment by Everyman Theatre’s Steven Smith.

As for the lovers, all eventually firmly put in their rightful places after Puck has had his fun with them: Laura Riseborough’s petulant Helena is a treat to watch as love transforms her into a confident (if surprised) beautiful bride and Jack Holden projects as an enthusiastic Lysander who tends to put his foot in it.

It is all great fun with the inevitable tinge of melancholy which is so much an ingredient of Shakespeare’s comedies – the bitter-sweet of life. Don’t attempt to make too much sense of it all – sit back and enjoy.

Runs until 28 May 2016 | Image:Topher McGrillis


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