Sparkly, intelligent and laugh-out-loud hilarious, Shakespeare in the Square’s new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream offers a wonderfully entertaining evening in various beautiful garden settings around London. Tatty Hennessy’s direction sets the play freshly spinning into 1920s Britain, where the lovers escape a country struggling under depression and loss to find magic and madness in the woods.
Shakespeare’s much-loved comedy blends together three worlds: the court, where Duke Theseus plans his wedding to Hippolyta and four young people find themselves entangled in lovers’ rows, the enchanted forest where fairies dwell, and the ‘rude Mechanicals’ theatre troupe who are rehearsing their amateur dramatic with sheer enthusiasm to compensate for any lack of talent.
The acting is exceptional across the board. A cast of only eight creates each of the distinct settings with great conviction and exhibits an impressive grasp of some very difficult text which carries the audience along with them. Particular highlights include Jodie Jacobs’ endearing performance as bumbling Bottom, and the blustering competition between Demetrius and Lysander (Riad Richie and David Leopold respectively). James Tobin also offers a mesmerising performance as Puck, leaping about the garden, whispering cheeky backchat to Oberon and guiltily munching on popcorn whilst the lovers threaten to tear one another’s eyes out.
The standout scene of the production is undoubtedly the extended metadrama in which the ‘rude Mechanicals’ stage the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe in the style of Mischief Theatre’s The Play that Goes Wrong. Fluffed lines, ridiculous costumes and a cowardly lion all amplify witty touches buried within Shakespeare’s text. An audience ranging from six-years-old to eighty roared with laughter throughout, and on the appearance of an actor, playing an actor, dressed as a wall, I genuinely thought the gentleman in front of me was about to hyperventilate.
The magic of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is further enhanced by thoughtful design: bunting and fairy lights hang from the trees, while rustic hoops and ladders are woven with summer flowers. After the sun had set in the second half, the garden was gently illuminated with pink, purple and orange lights. The effect was all rather dreamlike.
I cannot recommend this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream highly enough. It enthused the text with new life and reminded me just how magical theatre can be.