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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
A Midsummer's Night Dream

by Lizzie Loveridge
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What fools these mortals be.  . .   
--- Puck

Demetrius, Helena, Lysander, Hermia
Benedict Cumberbatch as Demetrius, Candida Benson as Helena, Gideon Turner as Lysander, Rebecca Callard as Hermia

What lovelier setting is there for Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream than the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park. The foliage of real trees surround the stage, swifts dart about in the sky and, as night falls, the magic intensifies. The director Alan Strachan has given us an interpretation which stresses the feminist issues of the play. In the introductory scene, Egeus (Philip York) brings his daughter Hermia (Rebecca Callard) to Duke Theseus (Martin Turner), because she will not marry the man of his choice, Demetrius (Benedict Cumberbatch) but prefers another equally eligible suitor, Lysander (Gideon Turner). Under Strachan's direction, Theseus' bride to be, Hippolyta (Rebecca Johnson), turns her back on him after he decides that Hermia must either marry Demetrius or become a nun. How I love Shakespeare's mix of Ancient Greece, the Amazonian women and nunneries!

Strachan's production is well balanced between the elements. The court, the lovers, the mechanicals and the fairies are of equal quality. I've seen productions where the mechanicals were tedious but here they are very finely played. Peter Quince (Timothy Kightley) is an old man who permanently nods his head and is bemused by Bottom's (Gary Wilmot) enthusiasm. The mechanicals range in age, the two young boys Snug (Daniel Crowder) and Flute (Richard Frame) giggling conspiratorially at their elders. In the final play, Moonshine as played by Starveling (John Conroy) steals the show with a highly camp fit of pique occasioned by Theseus' many interruptions of his very small part. Gary Wilmot is a most likeable Bottom. This naturally comic actor's donkey transformation features a head with rolling eyes that seems radio controlled but does add to the role.

As is usual the actors playing Theseus and Hippolyta double as their Fairy Kingdom counterparts, Oberon and Titania. Oberon (Martin Taylor) lusts after Titania, literally drooling over her thigh to show how much he misses sexual contact with her. Titania, (Rebecca Johnson) is a stately and delicate fairy queen. Puck (Paul Kemp) is turned out as a satyr with goat skin trousers and an Essex local accent although he can mimic the upper class tones of the Athenians. However he is a cheeky chappy and believably full of mischief. The lovers have the women in huge crinolines which they gradually strip off down to their Victorian infrastructure and eventually to their bodices and bloomers. Hermia (Rebecca Callard) is very tiny and Helena (Candida Benson) does take on "maypole" proportions.

The set is fixed, a staircase, marbled in green and cream, lamps changing for reeds in the woodland scenes, artificial greenery merging with real trees. Sloping lawns at either side of the stage serve as entrances and exits. As the evening progresses the lightingturns the fairies an eerie green. It is a thoroughly enjoyable evening crowned by the setting. The restaurant and bar are lit by fairy lights and serve splendid food and summer libations like Pimms and champagne - and mulled wine for colder nights. For details of the rest of the season's productions check thewebsite .

A Midsummer Night's Dream
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Alan Strachan

Starring: Gary Wilmot
With: Martin Turner, Rebecca Johnson, Paul Kemp, Philip York, Rebecca Callard, Gideon Turner, Benedict Cumberbatch, Candida Benson, Timothy Kightley, Richard Frame, Mark Roper, Daniel Crowder, John Conroy, Rachel Barrell, Karen Evans, Alison Crowther, Howard Ellis, Daniel Crossley, David Lucas, Jared Aggarwal/Alim Hirji
Design: Kit Surrey
Lighting Design: Jason Taylor
Sound: Simon Whitehorn
Movement: Linda Dobell
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 020 7486 2431
Booking to 8th September 2001
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on the 11th June 2001 performance at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, London NW1 (Nearest Tube station - Baker Street)


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