On a summer's evening, after a baking hot day of glaring sun, the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park really is a magical place to be. The trees around the stage provide an unrivalled, spectacular setting, eminently suitable for staging plays by Shakespeare, and 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' in particular. No wonder then that this play has been staged here around 50 times in the near 80 years that the theatre has been running. BUT … yes, there has to be one. BUT, when every rain-bearing cloud in the universe decides to deposit its contents over London – pouring a month's rain on the drought-stricken Olympic host city in a mere 24 hours – it is also one of the most miserable places to be. More akin to a meteorological nightmare than a fairy-tale-like dream.
It was already raining with considerable determination when I arrived at just after 7pm. And by the time the show started, it had turned into a deluge. I could not imagine why the management felt duty bound to proceed, even if theatrical convention dictates that 'the show must go on'. It was pretty obvious to any sane theatre-goer that it most certainly should not have done. In fact, it seemed rather ludicrous to even attempt a start, especially given that producers are the slaves of health and safety regulations these days. And I felt particularly sorry for the cast who, in spite of the odds being heavily stacked against them, bravely took to the stage and bravely did their best.
Even wearing a heavy-duty raincoat and one of the Open Air Theatre's free plastic poncho's, I was still soaked from head to foot. And with rain continually dripping down my head onto my glasses, I did not exactly get to see very much of what was going on. But director Matthew Dunster has re-imagined The Dream setting it, at least at the start, in a gypsy community. In an (overly long) initial sequence we see gypsy men working on a building site. Two large caravans adorn Jon Bausor's bold set which also features a huge crane that hoists away one of the gypsy 'vans to make space for the scenes in the forest. And the side of one of the caravans folds down to form the fairy bower where Titania is sleeping when Oberon calls to cast a spell on her. And that was about as a far as we got. I was beginning to warm to George Bukhari's comically energetic Bottom, and Christopher Colquhoun's Oberon was impressively authoritative. And Rebecca Oldfield had already made her mark as Helena, tottering around on her high heels after her beloved Demetrius who wants nothing to do with her.
In the end, the management managed to pool their brain cells along with those of the oracles at the Met Office and came up with the (blindingly obvious) conclusion that things were not going to improve and enough was enough, halting the show at a little over an hour into the first half. A wise decision, if belated and entirely predictable. Generous applause from the audience was reciprocated by a cast thankful for their support under impossible climatic conditions. This might not have been the best of openings for any show, but with a full season ahead, we can only hope that the weather will improve in due course so that we can check out in more detail Matthew Dunster's Romany interpretation of Shakespeare's much-loved, fairy romp in the woods.