A Midsummer Night's Dream - Open Air Theatre 2004

A summer treat, Shakespeare's delightful comedy is almost as synonymous with the Open-Air season as strawberries and cream at Wimbledon. Familiar the play may be but stale it certainly isn't, Ian Talbot's zestful production proving an absolute delight from first to last. With a sense of pace and robust good humour that nonetheless often verges on the melancholic, this is a bittersweet Midsummer Night's Dream that weaves a truly magical spell. The casting of comedian Russ Abbott as the deluded Bottom is a masterstroke as he is enormously entertaining, extracting every comic nuance from his role as artisan and ass, bemused plaything of Titania, Queen of the fairies.

There's a wonderful sense of cohesion in this production that engages the audience immediately. It's set in the elegant Edwardian era with the civilised gentility of its principal characters providing effective contrast with the free-spirited fairies. Designer Kit Surrey creates a beguiling fairy forest with mounds of grass at each side of the stage providing a platform for a highly energetic interpretation of the play. Fairies leap into action, characters roll down a grassy bank- there's a palpable sense of fun and mischief that's perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the comedy.

All the cast are excellent, with a notably dynamic Demetrius and ethereal Titania but the balance of the play's humour falls on Shakespeare's motley assortment of 'rude mechanicals'- the artisans who provide a dramatic counterpoint to the central love quartet- and they're all terrific, led by Abbott who's clearly revelling in his role. Fast-paced, exuberant and far more persuasive than the majority of Dreams, here's the ideal way to spend a balmy summer evening.

(Amanda Hodges)
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