A Guide to Modern Playwrights, Plays, and Productions
A Midsummer Night's Dream

As Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is set in a forest of moonlight and magic, what better place to see a  magical production of it than in the greenery of the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park on a balmy summer night, with real moonlight.  Director Ian Talbot and his cast do the play proud, as the young lovers suffer the “course of true love” not running “smooth,” the mature, engaged couple, Duke Theseus and Hippolyta, coolly await their nuptials, and the married couple, Titania and Oberon, wrangle. Titania’s fairies and Oberon’s jester Puck are childish imps, fun-loving pranksters, and providing pure delight are the town mechanicals, workmen who resort to the forest to rehearse a play they will present before the Duke,  “Pyramus and Thisbe,” that would be “tragical” but ends up “comical.”

As Bottom, the self-styled star of the mechanicals (and of this production), John Hodgkinson is perfect.  In this early play, Bottom is probably the first of Shakespeare’s great comic characters.  He exudes self-confidence, and nothing fazes him.  Whether enacting Pyramus or wearing an ass’s head, he is a model of composure.  Perfectly at home sharing the rule of fairyland, he is as gracious as is Theseus to subjects of the throne, asking Cobweb to bring him a “honeybag” from a bee, or calling for the tongs and bones rather than more sophisticated music.  He is e is the only character to move effortlessly from city stalls to woodland, to fairyland, to court, and he is at home in each milieu.  His gestures are just right, exaggerated yet graceful, and his reactions are sympathetic as well as comic when his ass’s head appears and later disappears.

Meanwhile, in fairyland, Puck (Gerard Carey) has a great time stirring things up for the invaders of the greenwood, Lysander (Dominic Marsh) and Hermia (Sheridan Smith), who elope there to escape her father’s (Andrew Melville) hostility to their marriage and his invocation of the death penalty or a nunnery for her.  Her father’s preferred suitor, Demetrius  (David Partridge), also turns up in the woodland, drawn there when Hermia, who spurns him, tells Helena, whom he spurns, of their plans.  The two men are virtually interchangeable, as Lysander points out to his wished-for father-in-law.  But  they change and change again under the influence of Oberon’s magic love-juice, while the two women need no magic to remain faithful to their original love, Helena (Summer Strallen) having formerly been engaged to Demetrius, who more lately has been wooing Hermia.  Believers in ‘all’s fair in love and war,’ the two formerly close girlfriends engage in insults when both men, afflicted with love-juice, switch from loving Hermia to declare their undying passion for Helena.  Farce ensues as first the women and then the men come to blows.

Ian Talbot, artistic director of the Open Air, gives us a most imaginative interpretation of the fairies.  He sees them as “spiky and frightened” and rather like the Lost Boys in “Peter Pan,” which he also has directed.  When Selena Chilton appears as the first fairy, with shaved head and in Edwardian underwear, it might be off-putting to audience members expecting beautiful winged creatures dancing in to Mendelssohn’s music, but the fairies’ fun and pranks win us over.

The costumes by Kit Surrey are charmingly Edwardian, the women in long white dresses, most of the men in uniform, and the workmen dressed for their play in garb that adds to the humor of their amateur performance as ‘tragic’ lovers, the wall, the man in the moon plus dog, and a lion whose roar is more of a purr.  The set needs only a green hill for Puck’s hiding place and the chamber of amorous Titania (Sirine Saba), otherwise taking advantage of the natural shrubbery for entrances and exits.

The hilarity of “Pyramus and Thisbe” in which everything that can go wrong, does so, is a tribute both to Mr. Talbot’s inventive staging and to the excellent acting of Bottom’s supporting cast: Timothy Kightley, Thomas Aldridge, David Burrows, Leo Conville, and Michael Medwin.  And when the laughter dies, and the couples depart, Puck and the singing fairies conclude a magical evening.