As befits the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the Theatre Royal, Bath, has included one of his best-loved plays in their summer season. If you are a fan of Shakespeare, you will have undoubtedly seen A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed in many different ways, outdoors, in a pub venue, costumed and in modern dress, the play lends itself to many facets but director Laurence Boswell’s creation is beautifully crafted and arrestingly entertaining.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, weaves a play within the play, toys with the fate of both mortal and fairy lovers, all taking place in an enchanted wood outside Athens. The set is both simple and spectacular, as are the costumes and body painting of the fairies and Puck. Transition between the world of mortals and the mythical world of the fairies that inhabit the wood overlaps and guides you through the story.
Phill Jupitus takes the role of Nick Bottom, the weaver, who casts the play for the court and through Puck’s mischievous meddling is turned into an ass. Never one to be phased, Phill Jupitus is inventive and original, and blessed with a talent for acting as well as comedy. As a well-known comedian on both radio and television, his name on the programme will probably draw in a wider audience than normal for a Shakespeare production and this can only be to the good.
Darrell D’Silva, Katy Stephens and Forbes Masson as Royal Shakespeare Company artists give their considerable expertise and experience to the play in spades. Darrell D’Silva plays both Theseus and Oberon, equally commanding in both, Katy Stephens his Hippolyta and seductive Titania, and Forbes Masson, Hermia’s domineering and overbearing father Egeus, and Peter Quince. Simon Gregor made a wonderful Puck, of spare build he can twist and contort himself into any shape and he brought a splendidly otherworldly quality to the role, just how I always imagine Puck to be.
Helena’s lustful pursuit of Demetrius was vigorously demonstrated by Maya Wasowicz (“how could he refuse?” a puzzled male member of the audience was heard to mutter), and Wilf Scolding as Demetrius, equally determined in his conquest of Hermia cut a fine figure. Eve Ponsonby was perfect as the diminutive and delicate Hermia, paired with William Postlethwaite as Lysander, her rather laid back lover that is until he is sprinkled with the all changing fairy dust. The physical fight scenes between these four are quite something to watch – a second out and someone may lose an eye!
Snug (Ekow Quartey) was a roaring success as the lion, Tom Snout (Vinta Morgan) immovable as the wall, Robin Starveling (Gregory Gudgeon) shone as the moon, and Frances Flute (Oscar Batterham) was a reluctant maid.
As well as all this, there is music, dancing and song to entertain and I thought this one of the best productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that I have seen for a long time, which I really enjoyed. If you don’t think Shakespeare is for you, think again and try this for size.