Wednesday, 19 December 2012

A Midsummer Nights Dream: Theatre Review

Linking a classic Shakespeare play to the Traveller culture which most people know about from the hit TV show 'My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding' sounds like a bizarre and almost ridiculous idea. But it works. For the 2012 season at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre they are doing two shows in repetition, Ragtime and A Midsummer Night's Dream and I had the pleasure of attending a preview for A Midsummer Night's Dream. This theatre seems like the perfect place to put on this play, and of course it is. You're outside in one of London's most beautiful parks, add a few coloured lights to it and it would be the most enchanting setting for this play. Not in this production, obviously they have the beauty aspects that they use to full advantage (how could you not?!) but add in two caravans, a crane and a load of gypsies then you've got this adaptation of one of William Shakespeare's most famous plays. The Open Air Theatre is currently in their 80thSeason and continues to amaze audiences with their productions. Their most recent and most famous ones include the Olivier Award Winning productions Crazy For You, Into The Woods and Hello, Dolly! Their decision to do yet another production of A Midsummer Night's Dream may not come as a surprise but when you see what they've done with the piece, you'll never forget it.
The simple breakdown of the story is as follows; Hermia's father sets her up with Demetrius but she loves Lysander, Hermia doesn't love Demetrius but Helena does. Hermia and Lysander plan to run away. In the forest the King and Queen of the fairies, Oberon and Titania, are in a dispute over a boy Titania has adopted. Oberon thinks it will be funny if he gives love drop to Titania so she will fall in love with the first creator she sees when she awakes. Meanwhile, Helena and Demetrius follow Hermia and Lysander into the forest. Oberon over hears the arguments that happen between these young lovers and instructs Puck to put the love potion into Lysander's eye to make him fall in love with Helena, but he mistakes Demetrius for Lysander and then the first person he sees is Helena, therefore falling in love with her and discarding Hermia. In the middle of this chaos a group of men (The work men in this particular production) are rehearsing for a play they will perform at a wedding. Puck casts a spell on Bottom and gives him a Donkeys head, he is then the first creature Titania sees when she awakes from her sleep and she immediately falls in love with him. Oberon then anoints Demetrius with the love potion and ensures that Helena is the first one he sees. However then both men are in love with Helena and now she thinks they are mocking her! In the end, Oberon sets everything right. The play then ends with Theseus (The 'leader' of the Gypsies) and Hippolyta getting married.
Matthew Dunster has done a fantastic job with this production; I can't get over how perfect he has paired this with the Gypsy culture. He HAS to win some sort of award for this; his work needs to be recognised! Jon Bauser has done a very interesting thing with the set, in a normal West End theatre you have lights that can be used to hide things and make things look different and interesting whereas he has nothing to hide behind as it's in broad daylight. The two caravans in which one opens up to reveal a huge piece of greenery and flowers and the other flies up to show a water hole in the ground was interesting and really made everything that bit more enchanting.
James Farncombe also had the hard job of lighting an open air production; he does a great job and really works with the natural settings well and handles the move from light to darkness very cleverly. The whole design of the show was brilliant, very intelligent and the aesthetic side of this production was by far the best it could be.
Hayley Gallivan and Tom Padley have a loving relationship in the play and it really does make you go "awwww", I wouldn't necessarily chose these two as the obvious casting for the parts but both were perfect for this production, Hayley in particular had an innocence in her which contrasted well with the harsh relationship between Thesues and Hippolyta. Rebecca Oldfield as Helena was fantastic; she brought a lot of comedy elements to this production without even trying. She gave an effortless but brilliant performance. Kingsley Ben Adir as Demetrius did a good performance; his onstage chemistry with Tom Padley was highly entertaining!
David Birrell as Thesues inflicted fear into the other characters in the play; he was the classic Man that we think of when we think about Gypsies. He played the meanness within him well and as an audience we began to actually hate him. Sounds like a bad thing, but as an actor that means you've done your job! Katie Brayden as Hippolyta was amazing, she had a small role but she was the highlight for me. The pain I felt for her character when she walked out the caravan with bruises and cuts all over her was then brought back to the audience's attention when she got on the karaoke machine at her wedding and sang a song right into Thesues face with tears in her eyes. She played the character astonishingly, for such a small role she filled it incredibly.I'd go back to see this play just to see her.
Oberon and Titania have been portrayed in a way I've never seen before, both quite dark. Christopher Colquhoun brings a very possessive and slightly evil side to Oberon and it really works, especially with Tasmin Carroll's Titania which was elegant and had a beautiful presence on stage. The way she entered from the water hole picked up by the other fairies was enchanting. She was also a very interesting person to watch in this play, another reason why I'd love to go back.
Oliver Johnstone's Puck was also another interesting one; his role was done in almost a sinister way which worked great with him watching most of the play especially at the beginning when he is on the black bike. A special mention also going to Sandra Marvin and Sophia Nomvete who were hilarious whenever they were on stage! Absolutely brilliant!
Over all this production was one of the best things I have EVER seen, if you miss this then you've got something wrong with you! This play has something for everyone, even if you're not a Shakespeare fan you should still love it.
Rating: *****
A Midsummer Night's Dream ran at the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park and closed on the 5thSeptember 2012
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