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