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Marian Pashley

Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

A Midsummer Night's Dream - Open Air Theatre I love the open air theatre in Regent's Park, it is one of London's special places, even when it rains. To see a production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM on a balmy midsummer night, in a forest (well, the trees do cradle the stage) when so much of its action takes place in such a setting, is a real treat. When the production is also visually striking and the actors not only excellent Shakespearean performers but able to punch the humour to the front of their performance, well, you are really onto a winner.

This play is funny, and it deserves these actors who are capable of slapstick, knock about action, as well as perfectly intoned dry witticisms. I came to adore Helena (Remy Beasley) whose righteous outrage had us laughing as we were completely believing in, and championing, her cause, however ludicrous the action became. I was moved to guffaws at the comic versatility of Susan Wokoma as Bottom, who managed to convey a touching vulnerability even when being the most foolish of dupes.

But that is the rub with Shakespeare, the convolution of the plot can test an audience's patience, which is only remedied by a cast, such as this, performing it with utter conviction and obvious gutsy relish. So, as to that plot. We have the classic thwarted lovers, her father forbids it so they plan therefore to abscond and marry, the discarded loyal sweetheart tormented by the fickle lover, and in amongst it, sure to cause much mayhem, the machinations of the mischeivous fairy King and Queen who are suffering their own romantic mishaps. Thrown in for good measure is a buffoonery of a subplot featuring idiots and innocents causing havoc.

Confusing? Of course it is, but it all gets put to right in the end, as we all really knew it would, so it doesn't actually matter if we don't quite follow how.

What one is left with is are stand out moments of stunning choreography and design, as the faeries are imagined as spider like mute beings that are propped ungainly on crutches and prosthetic legs, who watch and threaten the mortal fools as they stumble in the forest. We are sustained by the delightful foolery of the subplot "actors" who keep surprising the audience with their tautly paced comedy, and the comforting feeling that, overseen by the all knowing fairy queen Titania, all will eventually be well in the world.

It is a long night, the performance towards the end of the second half, by the "actors", of the mishap ridden play within a play, for the benefit of their betters, could really drag it if weren't for the tight direction and faultless comic timing of these supposed incompetents. Joshua Miles, as Flute, playing Thisbe, is a raucous delight as he gets it all wrong, and the comic inventiveness of the staging of the "lovers" kissing through the wall is a bawdy bit of fun that shouldn't be missed.

After Puck (a fairy played by an excellent Myra McFadyen) delivers the final verses, the audience were applauding and up on their feet.

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this to anyone, Shakespeare lover or not, as it is a really successful interpretation that communicates effortlessly to a modern day audience.

A Midsummer's Night Dream tickets