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“Dreamlike and Wonderful”: A Review of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

In the President’s Garden of Magdalen College, the winding path to my seat brought me past the cast already in character and costume, putting the audience straight into the fantastical world of Shakespeare’s creation. A Midsummer Night’s Dream makes a rather fitting choice for a garden play, given that the majority of it takes place in the fairy-world of woods and glens; the well-designed soundscape only added to this, I couldn’t tell if the birdsong was recorded or emanating the trees around me. The immersive feel continued throughout, and the space of the garden was used creatively. The role of the fairies in this production was one of the best ways this came through, as they often appeared from an unexpected angle, part of the garden themselves. Puck (Caitlin McAnespy) was a highlight, both in the spectacular costume and the fluid movements of the shadowy character.

Without a doubt, the audience-favourite moment had to have been the love scene between Oberon (Aravind Ravi) and Bottom (Tom Vallely) – this production followed in the footsteps of the Bridge Theatre’s 2019 decision to reverse the typical power balance of the fairy monarchs, speaking interestingly to the themes of sexuality, gender and power that permeate the play. When ‘I Put A Spell On You’ began to play and the fairies began their burlesque dance, the garden was in hysterics (or at least my row of the audience was). Gloriously camp and brilliantly choreographed, the – um – climax of the scene (complete with a confetti cannon) was a strong act-closing moment.

Returning after the interval, it felt suddenly darker, with the impressive lighting bathing the performance space in pink. Whilst the fairies dominated the first part, the physical staging of the four lovers’ quarrel brought their story to the foreground later on, bringing the iconic scenes of confusion and ultimate reconciliation (it is a comedy after all, which was never forgotten in this production). Again, the interaction with the audience when Theseus et al joined the picnic blanket seating area for ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ felt immersive and heightened that moment of metatheatricality. 

Yes, it may have reminded me of other recent versions of this play. However, it is a Shakespeare play, so sometimes doing what we know well is the best strategy, which was certainly achieved here. All in all, a dream-like and wonderful way to spend the ‘three hours between our after-supper and bedtime’, in the words of Theseus himself. 

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