Those who know me know that I’m not prone to favouring silliness. One might imagine therefore that the best part of three hours spent watching the glittering love child of Donald Trump and one (or indeed both) of the Jedward twins orchestrate slapstick fighting to a beatboxing soundtrack would be my idea of a living hell. Nor would one imagine these things to be within a Shakespeare play. Yet, both expectations would be pleasantly quashed as, in the words of the bard himself, Timothy Sheader’s and William Villages’ production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre “made a heaven from hell”.
A potentially dubious start of a Grey-Goose Vodka adorned rusted metal stage is kept in the lurch by the unfortunately somewhat binary acting of Hermia (Gabrielle Brooks); 0 for demure, 1 for angry, no complicated configurations allowed. The contrast of Helena’s (Remy Beasley) boisterous start also fails to allay my fears. However, Beasley’s extravagance soon proves to blend smoothly into the industrious traffic created by the exuberance of the rest of the cast; she proves to be both endearing and watchable. Somewhat surprisingly, as does the aforementioned Trump-Jedward associate in the form of the Glaswegian impacted Puck (Myra McFadyan). A character whose impish mistakes are often frustrating, McFadyan brings a more settled mischief to the oft overly zealous portrayals of Puck’s past.
Exuberance is no more seen than in the electrifying energy that is Susan Wokoma, in her role as the infamous Bottom. With an enduring fight, she successfully bounces off the buoyant Gareth Snook (playing Peter Quince) whilst not over-powering the vitality of the rest of the company. Any scenes involving these two are a joy to behold, including a riotous final act using armour made from cardboard boxes.
Parody aside, the special effects of the performance are quite spectacular. Kafkaesque fairy costumes designed by Rachael Canning precede magically appearing flowers, disappearing babies, and a highly effective use of puppetry. For an outdoor theatre with limited space for deceit and disguise, the incorporation of magic seems almost within the framework of the stage itself.
I am in two minds as to whether the Oliver Cromwells of thespian appreciation would admire this production. On the one hand, its delicately refined moments (such as those presented skilfully by such talents as Pierro Niel-Mee who gave a stand-out subtle intensity as the trialed Demetrius) are rather few and far between; comedy and blunt passion often replace the former. On the other, it occurs to me - and evidently to the audience all roaring with laughter - that this completely preposterous, brilliant ridiculousness is near the closest one will see to a true, real-life Shakespearean adaption of this bizarre play, as if performed in the age of the writer himself. It is a comedy that allows the characters to play with the audience; and boy did they play.
To clamber up the hill of expectation, as laid down over so many years, with such momentum is no mean feat. It is not refined, it is imperfect. But it is a rip-roaring, high-flying production that I throughly enjoyed.