A Midsummer Night's Dream
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
Regent's Park, London
Saturday 9th June 2012
A Midsummer Night's Dream has long been synonymous with Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, and this summer ushers its welcome return after a 5 year absence. Director Matthew Dunster's production of this quotable play is almost unrecognisable however, brought bang up to date set in the heart of a gypsy community on the edge of a construction site.
The stage has been rebuilt with a thrust to allow multiple entrances and exits front of house, and the magnificently designed set (John Bausor) is strewn with construction debris, caravans, a crane, a white van, all while maintaining a generous acting space for the energetic and numerous cast. An ingenious transformation from Athens into the forest is one of the many highlights of the show.
Costuming across the board, by Laura Hopkins, is especially captivating. In a theme that called on some imagination to create an appearance that did not simply look scruffy, each cast member is characterised perfectly. I particularly liked Bottom's T-shirt, and the gradual deterioration of the slogan on Lysander's tracksuit. The fairies would not have looked out of place in an episode of Doctor Who, with Titania's enormous dreadlocks adding presence to her dramatic entrance and Puck's hoodie-covered horns making him a sinister on-looker to the human world.
The gypsy setting worked excellently as the focus for the Athenians. Hippolyta (Katie Brayben) sporting a black eye for her 'Big Fat Gypsy Wedding' to a menacingly broody Theseus (David Birrell) symbolically took the edge off the jovial atmosphere of the wedding scene, and added a suggested undertone to an otherwise frivolous final act. The four lovers were excellent in their chase around the forest, but I especially enjoyed Rebecca Oldfield's Helena, tottering about in her smitten adoration of Demetrius and descending into justified confusion amongst the fairy induced chaos.
The Fairy kingdom was worlds away from the traditional, dainty likes of Tinkerbell and her cohorts. Staged with a foreboding underscore and dramatic physicality, Titania and Oberon's (Tamsin Carroll & Christopher Colquhoun) opening exchange sets a dark tone, underpinned by some strong choreography by the fairy ensemble. Puck (Oliver Johnstone) was no "merry wanderer" either, but a disquieting presence speeding around the set on his BMX or hovering in shady corners. An entirely contrasting world to that of the mortals, which added a refreshing depth and engaging switch in mood throughout the play.
Bottom and his gang of tradesmen are recruits from the adjacent construction site, donning high visibility waistcoats and a spectrum of reluctant attitudes. George Bukhari as Bottom, the frustrated thespian, is a captivating performer bringing charm and energy to the role. He is almost lost in the enormous ass head while among the fairies, but comes into his own again as Pyramus in the tradesmen's final performance. Some fantastic comic performances among the other tradesmen who impress throughout, and who truly steal the show in their operatic version of Pyramus and Thisbe and the most entertaining version of the subsequent bergomask I have witnessed.
A boundary pushing production at Regent's Park, which does not allow artistry to overpower entertainment value. Well worth wrestling with the Olympic crowds for this summer.