A dreamy way to spend a Midsummer’s night
Though rain begins to fall with aptly theatrical timing, nothing can dampen the spirits of the audience members as they sit munching their picnics eagerly awaiting Chester Perform’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to commence at Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre. It wouldn’t be a British Summer without a shower or two, but luckily the clouds quickly pass to make way for this intriguing interpretation of a timeless work.
In a performance that reiterates the notion of reflection and contrast, we soon learn that the actors playing mortal rulers Hippolyta and Theseus are also cast as the flighty rulers of Faery, Titania and Oberon. Clever use of actor twins Danielle and Nichole Bird means that Puck, the nimble trickster sprite, appears to zip around the earth in the twinkle of an eye, speedily rushing off stage in one direction only to zoom past again from the other seconds later. Though the two later come to be on stage at the same time, admittedly shattering the ingenious illusion, the production’s duality motif is further highlighted by the antics of the mischievous pair.
The most striking embodiment of this counterpart imagery appears when the acting troupe of simple tradesmen first depart, lifting up a giant metal ring from around the circular stone podium in the midst of the theatre – a symbolic loosening of the girdle of reality and reason – to float in ethereal mimicry of the earthbound mortal world.
Only now that this strange doorway in the air is manifest, and the deliciously atmospheric full moon gleams amid the real storm clouds above, can the Fairies enter; attired like a motley gypsy band, they bring no end of mayhem and mischief in their wake, not to mention spark a veritable explosion of carnal yearning in the mortals with which they choose to toy for a night’s sport. . . With the juice of an intoxicating flower smeared about their eyes, we see rival suitors Lysander and Demetrius snarling and writhing like hounds as they hump the earth (as well as the leg of a very bewildered Helena) in a burst of pure animalistic passion.
The result is a riotous fight scene with a rainbow spectrum of powder paint bombs blooming in the air with Fairies devilishly providing the unwitting humans with ammunition. Whilst hilarious, it has to be said that the dismayed sense of sisterly betrayal Shakespeare penned in the quarrel between Helena and Hermia is somewhat disappointingly drowned out in the uproar.
Nevertheless, the combined efforts of director Alex Clifton and choreographer Imogen Knight ensure that the Bard’s elegant and ornate Elizabethan words are colourfully expressed in a manner that is enormously entertaining to all the family. Spectacle is very much the order of the day and we are given it in abundance: lords and ladies chant in candlelit procession; Fairies crow a rustic lullaby on folk instruments; the humble troupe performs its play-within-a-play to the newly-weds (now seated, like the audience, with drink and picnic in hand) along with a sprightly Morris dance, at both of which the audience continually roar with laughter, clapping and stomping away to the music.
Actors and audience alike delight in the frequent interaction with the gathered onlookers: lordly Oberon smears the charmed flower’s aphrodisiacal juice upon the noses of an elderly couple and cheekily wishes them a good night, whilst Bottom runs about as an ass with a Fairy entourage to steal a swig of prosecco or a mouthful of grapes from stunned picnickers, and lovelorn Helena chases her would-be sweetheart through the seated crowd to take a perilous dive off the terrace above.
Shakespeare’s work continues to speak to us through the ages of the unifying and transcendental power of love whilst convention is well and truly turned on its head, and this production remains faithful to these themes whilst instilling it with a fresh and original vibrancy.
For more information about this and other productions visit: http://www.grosvenorparkopenairtheatre.co.uk/