Theatre Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream @ Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

By Sam Smith Last edited 71 months ago
Theatre Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream @ Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

This may not be A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the purists, with Athenian robes swapped for hoods and shell suits, lines delivered in Essex-girl accents and a fair amount of boogying on down to Dolly Parton’s Jolene.

Yet Matthew Dunster’s production works as a heady treat for a long, balmy summer’s night, and its emphasis on laughs is certainly not to the detriment of any deeper points. When enchanted to love Helena (Rebecca Oldfield), Lysander (Tom Padley) may silently retch every time he utters the name ‘Hermia’, but generally the text is well respected. Nor is transferring the action to the modern day – with the Rude Mechanicals becoming down-trodden labourers – inappropriate, since ancient Athens was probably a building site for most of its existence.

Some of the undertones are also quite potent. Characters reveal scars, black eyes and nose bleeds, the actors are not only mocked but physically kicked, and Hippolyta’s (Katie Braben) marriage to Theseus (David Birrell) seems as if it will be anything but a happy one.

But the strength of the production is to hint at these sinister elements while leaving us to laugh aloud at the play within a play, which is performed to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and the theme tune to Steptoe and Son! Although its emphasis is on fun, this is ultimately a multi-layered interpretation of the play, and the mixture of dreamy passion and high comedy in Titania’s (Tamsin Carroll) seducing of Bottom (George Bukhari) would seem to encapsulate the evening as a whole.

In rep (with Ragtime) until 5 September. Tickets: 0844 8264242 or from the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre website.    

Photo: Titania (Tamsin Carroll), Bottom (George Bukhari) and the Fairy Servants, © Alastair Muir.

Last Updated 14 June 2012


It was absolutley awesomely amazing. Helena was the best character in my opinion.

David Morriss

This was, without doubt, the worst Midsummer Nights Dream I have ever seen.  All the beauty, all the magic, all the charm, all the intelligence; all the subtlety; all the wit; all the delight; in short, all the things we booked tickets for, were removed.  What we got for was a caravan in a building site populated by white trash in track suits.  The humour no longer came from Shakespeare's text.  Instead it came from a few cheap laughs provoked by one of the actors belching loudly after taking a swig from a can of beer.  Ho ho.  Oh yes, and a large purple cock stuffed down Bottom's track suit.  Nice one.  And a couple of letters removed from the back of Lysander's shell suit so that "I love Reebok" became "I Ree k".  Hilarious.  If this production was aimed at making Shakespeare appeal to teenagers, Bravo.  I didn't see a single one in the audience.  Mind you, there was a large number of empty seats so perhaps they did the sensible thing and pushed off before this utterly miserable night got underway.  You know what, Matthew Dunster, we paid our 43 pounds for a chance to escape from the grimness of modern London life in this dismal summer, just for 3 short hours.  What you gave us was a nightmare, not a dream.  David Morriss               

Richard Ricks

By far and away the worst production I have seen at the OAT. The delight, magic and atmosphere so usually present with this play (and augmented by the theatre itself) was simply non-existent. Such a crass and bawdy rendering of this magnificant work was not worthy of either the author or the venue. The first time I have ever left a performance at the interval and itad nothing to  with the weather.

How appropriate that London is hosting the Games this year. If execrable vulgarity was an olympic sport, this production would ensure at least one Gold for Britain


Hey, lighten up, this is fun!
Sure the setting - building site/gypsy camp/woods outside of Athens took a little adjustment but by and large it worked well. I was there on the worst night possible - they had to stop the action twice to sweep the rain off the stage so as not to risk the actors when singing/dancing, but the drama worked well, and the humour was well in evidence. Full marks too to all the cast who must have been freezing as well as dripping but kept up the fun of the 'play within the play' and the (Gypsy) multiple wedding. Highly recommended, but DO take your waterproofs - for obvious reasons you cannot use umbrellas during the play, and with the weather London has had this summer...

Oh and although I am not a Shakespeare purist, I know and love Shakespeare well - English graduate- and this was probably as near to Shakespeare's original rough and tumble staging as you might get!


Was very amazing, had very great time. It was so funny and unexpected. Very modern and young. The actors are very good. I will go back. Great time


I really enjoyed it.  One of the best versions of MSD I have everr seen.  My teenage daughter loved it as well - and so di the capacity audience


I watched last night with friends in the rain (August 7) and wondered why the stage doesn't incorporate some drainage or a slip proof matting because it needed mopping twice and thereby delayed the production. However, the rain didn't dampen our spirits and to see Shakespeare interpreted for 2012 with such verve and energy and the interconnection/textuality with recent (London) happenings was enlightening.

The hooded Puck on his BMX bike was truly spooky and carried echoes of the summer TV production of Line of Duty; the mechanicals locked in the transit van a stark reminder of the recent court case; gypsy weddings - yes they happen - big dresses are hard to handle and an echo back to the big dresses of the royal courts.

All the members of cast were brilliant especially Helena (Rebecca Oldfield), I thought she was the link which carried the performance. And I especially liked the Lion mechanical.

Our BMX hopefuls go head to head in the Olympics today - the first time on the new track. This production links Shakespeare with new Britain and like it or not it is a positive spin that I'm glad to embrace.

Robert M

I have seldom enjoyed a night at the theatre more than this. A brilliant rendition, breathing new life into very well trodden ground. The brilliantly devised modern day setting and theme, the acting, the wonderful set and the upbeat tempo. It can only be a good thing that this has ruffled the peacock feathers of purists and fuddy-duddys who have watched the same rendition time and time again. For when Shakespeare wrote this, it was current in his day, it was intended to cause a stir, to make us laugh. It was intended that we could relate to the characters, know them. The fools were supposed to be just that, the lovers impetuous and the lords fearsome. All that has happened is that they have dragged it into the modern day and made it perhaps the most relevant Shakespeare play I have seen. I genuinely believe The Bard himself would applaud this.