(reviewed at the Theatre in the Forest, Jimmy’s Farm, Wherstead on 28 July)
As most of the action of Shakespeare’s comedy takes place in a forest, this would seem to be a logical choice for the Red Rose Chain’s third woodland production. The setting, framed by mature trees which incorporate perfectly in to human and fairy adventures, is indeed an effective one – especially when darkness allows stage lighting to play its part.
The trouble is that Joanna Carrick’s production only really takes off towards the end, when the mechanicals’ proffered burgomasque turns into a brilliantly lit, burlesque of dance devised by Rachel McCormick as a kaleidoscope of styles, from ballet and Irish through to chorus-line slickness. It’s long time to wait, though.
We are all used to a certain amount of double-casting; usually this takes the form of Theseus and Hippolyta also playing their other-world avatars Oberon and Titania. Carrick goes one better by triple-casting almost all her eight actors. There’s an amusing logic to both the by-the-book Egeus and the maverick (not to say anarchic) Puck being played by Adam Wilson and the two men who both think their talents are not sufficiently appreciated – Demetrius and Bottom – by Daniel Booroff. Both give excellent performances.
Robeet Dowdeswell radiates authority as Theseus, a man comfortably aware of his natural right to command and Oberon, the fairy kingdom ruler who gets his own way in the end. Kirsty Thorpe gives warrior queen Hippolyta a slight foreign accent and then is pleasantly feminine as the distinctly hippy Titania. I grew weary of Eleanor Cotton-Soares monotonous shouting as Hermia, though Joanna Brown’s beanpole Helena has her moments – and seizes them wholeheartedly.
The court characters are dressed by Carrick and David Newborn in black and white, while the mechanicals, as well as providing what you might call the town band, are straight out of Dad’s Army in khaki greatcoats. Once we’re in Fairyland, that turns out to be flower-power territory, all caftans and funny stockings; Puck emerges from a petal-painted beat-up Reliant Robin to take the audience by storm.
For the play scene, we are treated to bathing costumes in bright scarlet, some outlandish props and an unfortunate apparent inability to see that the comedy comes mainly from its bunch of inept actors taking themselves absolutely seriously. As I said, Act Five is a long time to wait for a play to take fire. This one proves to be something of a damp squib, and that’s a pity.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at the Theatre in the Forest until 30 August.