A Midsummer Night's Dream
Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park
One of the staples of English summer is a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Regent's Park. This year, the most appropriate of outdoor plays is directed by Michael Pennington, recently seen playing John Gabriel Borkman for the English Touring Theatre. Pennington's strengths are his comic sensibility and his eye for visual effect.
In this largely modern-dress production it is the Mechanicals, led by a wonderful Bottom, played by Peter Forbes, that steal the show. Whether he is taking over rehearsals from the meek Peter Quince (John Conroy) or carousing with his Titania (Issy Van Randwick) with an articulated ass's head that makes him more like Muffin The Mule, Forbes grabs the eye. By the end of the night, he merely needs to appear on stage to set off laughs amongst the audience.
The rest of the Mechanicals help to form an extremely funny team with accents from every corner of the United Kingdom.
The more serious Athenian scenes tend to pale into insignificance despite the bluff wit of John Hodgkinson's Theseus and his haughty Hippolyta (Phillipa Peak). The pairs of loving couples rush around keenly, Pennington knows well how to use this large parkland space, but apart from the delightfully passionate Helena (Victoria Woodward) they do not engage enough sympathy for their plight.
The feathered fairies sing well, if in a rather synthesised fashion and look like bedraggled little birds. Their King and Queen, Oberon and Titania, the latter in a splendid cloak of peacock feathers, have much fun at the expense of the lovers with the assistance/hindrance of Puck played by Joseph Alessi looking like a Buddhist monk.
At the end of a very pleasant evening in the open air, the audience will go home happy as a result of a humorous evening played out on Peter Farnsworth's bosky set that enables disembodied hands and heads to haunt young lovers.
The final memory of the Mechanicals' play makes a witty epilogue to all that has gone before as all six of them ham it up to delightful effect.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher