A Midsummer Night's Dream

William Shakespeare
MATE and Shakespeare North
The Mansion Garden, Calderstones Park

Over four hundred years since its first performance, A Midsummer Night’s Dream shows no signs of running out of steam. This outing by Prescot-based MATE Productions follows hot on the heels of versions from fellow Merseysiders Purplecoat Productions as well as the Liverpool Everyman. And why not?

It may be the most produced play of the Shakespeare canon—of any canon—but every visit to the Athenian fantasy faery world yields new delights and, occasionally, it turns up something utterly weird and wacky.

Now in my time I have seen many Bottoms—titter ye not! I do not jest. I have seen spotty Bottoms, flabby Bottoms and once I even spied a Bottom that was both flabby and spotty, but never have I seen a Bottom quite as camp as this one.

To say Francesco La Rocca (Nick Bottom) minces around the stage would not do justice to the verb ‘to mince’. For a moment it was as if Duncan Norvelle had returned to the stage. Although he never did invite Quince and co to chase him round the sumptuous gardens, the invitation would have been most apt.

MATE’s production, set in the splendid grounds of Liverpool’s Calderstones Park Mansion, emphasises all the magical elements of Shakespeare’s original play. This production is all about escapism and fantasy, as it should be.

There are dancing nymphs, swathes of green smoke and, thanks to a band of live musicians, plenty of other worldly sounds, which all help to conjure a sense of magic. Alas, thanks to an early start (6:30PM) there is no moonlight.

The landscape is, however, lush and the men and women are merry (one man more so than most). Let the show begin…

Despite a rain soaked first half act, this merry band of actors stood their ground. It takes more than a downpour to stop a bunch of thespians. Prayers were thankfully answered when the rain abated for the second act and the audience crept forwards for a ring-side view of some very well devised slapstick and tomfoolery.

Often it is the band of Bottom-lead mechanicals that steal the show in the Dream. Not on this occasion. It is the quartet of vain and fickle lovers who really steal this show, and that’s something that can’t be said of most Dreams.

Lysander (Karl James Fowler) Demetrius (Craig Sharkey) Helena (Kirsty Taylor) and Hermia (Robyn La Rocca) play out the scene of confusion in the Athenian woods with some aplomb. The physical comedy takes pride of place, but the darker side of human vanity—of such interest to the playwright—is ever-present too.

The performers simply have a ball, threading their way through picnic baskets and pickled onions clad in long-johns and petticoats a shade or two greener than an hour since. Time for some more magic—of the Persil variety.

All-told, this production is a joyful affair. Performances are bold and vibrant. Thanks to some judicious cuts, two hours whizz by. This is not just any old dream, it’s a pastoral idyll and one made that much richer by the addition of gardens green and, of course, grapes red. Salut!

Reviewer: David Sedgwick