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A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Lee Mengo, Tomi Ogbaro, Gareth Snook, Liz Crowther and Joshua Miles as Snout, Snug, Quince, Starveling and Flute. Photo Jane Hobson.
Lee Mengo, Tomi Ogbaro, Gareth Snook, Liz Crowther and Joshua Miles as Snout, Snug, Quince, Starveling and Flute. Photo Jane Hobson.

It’s almost as if productions like A Midsummer Night’s Dream can’t win. If it’s solidly faithful to the Shakespeare text it’s deemed as a missed opportunity to innovate and think creatively, but if it strays that little bit too far from the beaten path then the conclusion is drawn that it should have gone the whole way and become a new show altogether, like West Side Story arising out of Romeo and Juliet. Here, the text is adhered to, but the setting is altogether contemporary. So, this production has lost the purists. No harm done.

The opening scene, though, was most off-putting. Twelve white balloons are scattered around the stage, most tied on with ribbon to one of the chairs surrounding a large dining table. I didn’t (and don’t) object to the nightclub-style music that pulsated around the auditorium. It was rather the privileged and self-entitled manner of the characters’ entrance. Dressed smartly (again, nothing inherently wrong with that), the whole scene brought to mind Laura Wade’s play Posh, later adapted into a motion picture called The Riot Club, essentially about Oxford University students having a dinner that spirals out of control.

This is the play that has been revived more times in the history of the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre than any other, and it’s easy to see why as the natural backdrop of trees and greenery lends itself well to Acts Three and Four (of five), helpfully subtitled in a synopsis in the programme as ‘In The Wood’ and ‘Still In The Wood’ respectively. Duke Theseus (Kieran Hill) is more aggressive than assertive, leaving his wife Hippolyta (Amber James) to be one of those that traditional, submissive spouses that think better of striking back when ridiculed.

If that wasn’t bad enough, there’s domestic abuse to be encountered too, when Lysander (Michael Elcock) suddenly grabs hold of Hermia (Gabrielle Brooks) by the neck and squeezes. For the most part, however, there’s much fun to be had – and it is rare during a Shakespeare comedy play to hear an audience roar with laughter as loudly and as often as they did at Regent’s Park at the performance I sat through. There are moments when the play’s journey slows almost to a trickle, and while there have been longer productions than this one’s 2 hours and 45 minutes, it could have done with a little more trimming, or otherwise just picking up the pace would have been sufficient.

Peter Quince (Gareth Snook) was highly convincing as the leader of a travelling amdram theatre company, though the biggest laughs were reserved in the final act for Flute (Joshua Miles), cast by Quince to play a lady in a show to be presented as a gift to the Duke and Hippolyta at their wedding anniversary party, and Snout (Lee Mengo), dressed absurdly in a cardboard box and yet meant to be representing a brick wall. I was most impressed by Remy Beasley’s Helena – always a joy to watch, full of emotion without ever being melodramatic, putting her points across brilliantly. Look out, too, for the supposed lovers kissing, or attempting to kiss, through the wall: it’s a hoot.

It will not have gone unnoticed that there is more than one version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to go for at the time of writing. This one is hard-hitting in more ways than one, though there are some good costume designs and choreography to enjoy along the way. Here’s a delightful and enjoyable production to feast on – so long, of course, as ever, as the weather stays dry.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Through live music, playful adventure and physical invention, see the lovers’ world transformed into a place of magic, laughter and healing, as we journey into the woods.

Cast: Remy Beasley, Gabrielle Brooks, Liz Crowther, Michael Elcock, Kieran Hill, Amber James, Matthew James Hinchliffe, Mei Mac, Myra McFadyen, Lee Mengo, Joshua Miles, Pierre Niel-Mee, Tomi Ogbaro, Simon Oskarsson, Yana Penrose, Emily Rose-Salter, Gareth Snook and Susan Wokoma.

Weather adds a thrilling and unpredictable dimension to our work, but it can also affect the scheduling of our short technical and preview periods. If you are unable to attend on Monday 8 July, we would be delighted to arrange tickets for another performance following that date.

Director Dominic Hill
Designer Rachael Canning
Movement Director Emily-Jane Boyle
Composer Paddy Cunneen
Lighting Designer Ben Ormerod
Co-Sound Designers Simon Baker and Jay Jones
Season Associate Director (Voice) Barbara Houseman
Casting Director Vicky Richardson

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre have the pleasure of inviting you to the media night of
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Directed by Dominic Hill
Open Air Theatre, Inner Circle, Regent’s Park, London, NW1 4NU
Shakespeare’s fantastical fable of desire, confusion, jealousy and growing up.
BOOKING PERIOD: 28 Jun – 27 Jul 2019
PERFORMANCE TIMES: Monday – Saturday: 7.45pm, Thursday & Saturday: 2.15pm

 

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