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

At the Open-Air Theatre in Regent’s Park this play provides an enchanting evening or afternoon, the leafy setting perfect for Shakespeare’s comedy of love and magic. The quartet of young lovers are enacted with high spirits by Nick Fletcher, a casually-dressed Lysander vying with pin-stripe-suited Nicholas Burns as Demetrius for the love of Claire Redcliffe as Hermia.  Victoria Woodward is suitably lovelorn as Helena, spurned by Demetrius and suspicious when magic juice causes both men to dote upon her.  She and Hermia fall out and verbal accusations mount, while the men war over Helena’s affections.  The mature engaged couple, Duke Theseus (John Hodgkinson)  and Amazon Hippolyta (Phillipa Peak) seem bored and ill-matched as the play opens, and the married couple fare even worse, Queen of the Fairies Titania (Issy van Randwyck) eloquently blaming her husband for the topsy-turvy weather, and  King Oberon (Dale Rapley) vowing revenge by using magic juice to make her fall in love with a “monster.”

Director Michael Pennington does an excellent job, keeping the action moving, the characters diversified, and, above all, the language clear and well spoken.  Cleverly, he devises movement for each of the four groups, with Theseus and Hippolyta stiff and apart, the four young people leaping or clinging, Titania and Oberon graceful in their stance and gestures, the workers earthbound.  The brilliantly colored, flowing costumes Paul Farnsworth has created for the fairy rulers greatly contribute to their other-worldliness, fantastical modern interpretations owing more to Jacobean masques than to Arthur Rackham. Their makeup, and that of the four fairies in costumes that are equally fantastic, contribute to the aura of fairyland that surrounds these six.  Joseph Alessi as Puck provides an original interpretation of Robin Goodfellow, as a near-savage cousin to Caliban.

In addition to these disparate groups are city workers who gather in the forest to rehearse a play they will offer in the nuptial celebration for Theseus and Hippolyta.  Their “star” is weaver Nick Bottom (Peter Forbes), a type familiar in amateur dramatics, the confident one who wishes to play all the parts. Their director is carpenter Peter Quince, who fancies himself Noel Coward, head-tossing and wearing a silk dressing gown. For their “lamentable comedy” of Pyramus and Thisbe designer Farnsworth provides them with costumes that manage to be imaginative and look homemade at the same time.  Bottom’s histrionic Pyramus is attired as a Roman warrior whose helmet snaps shut on him, and his drawn-out death – sword under arm – is reminiscent of opera.

As it is promised that ”Jack shall have Jill” and  “nought shall go ill,” the four young lovers are rightly matched, Titania and Oberon resolve their quarrel, Theseus and Hippolyta warm up, and the “mechanicals” get through their play without too many physical or verbal mishaps. The celebration concludes with a delightful “Bergomask,” here interpreted as a Greek folk dance by the six workers, in which the three married pairs join. Finally, the fairies bless the marriages and prophesy healthy children in this outstanding presentation of one of Shakespeare’s most endearing comedies.