British summertime isn’t summer without an outdoor Shakespearean Comedy with a cosy blanket, white wine, and, ahem, rain. Shakespeare’s Globe on tour and the Oxford Playhouse bring A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the four hundred year old quadrangle inside the Bodleian library. On the opening night, which began with drizzle, the company put on a performance that was just as stunning as its surroundings.
This is a world of ever-changing love triangles, bumbling players, and angry fairies. Hermia loves Lysander, Helena loves Demetrius, but Demetrius is supposed to be marrying Hermia. When the Duke of Athens tries to enforce the marriage, the lovers take refuge in the woods. They are not alone though, as there are amateur actors rehearsing a play and a dispute between the king and queen of the fairies.
The play is often brushed off as a children’s story, its risqué humour, which Dr Johnson deemed not the sort of thing Elizabeth I should have seen, is often forgotten. Director Raz Shaw does not shy away from its sexual nature, there are bare torsos, plenty of kissing, and a female Puck so sexy, dressed like Liza Minnelli’s Sally Bowles from Cabaret, she sets the men’s pulses racing with every entrance (and suspender-clad exit). The costumes are attractive and centre on the 1930s: Brideshead Revisited-inspired outfits for the lovers, old-fashioned aprons and hats for the players, and German Weimar burlesque-like masks and wings for the fairies.
Since the play itself is about theatricality, it is fitting that it is performed in the Bodleian library. It is a place that is home to every work of fiction ever published, and it is thought that Shakespeare himself had visited it during his lifetime. The setting lends itself to Quince and Oberon who are both directors: Quince directs his actors and Oberon the lovers. The fourth-wall is often broken, too, by an over-eager Bottom running into the audience and a flirty Puck planting kisses (as well as herself) on the male audience members. Wiliam Mannering steals the show, as expected, as the super-enthusiastic Bottom, and Bethan Walker proves she’s a fine actress switching from the cheeky Puck to innocent Snug.
This is a magical, must-see production that ended with a standing ovation. Even if it does, in true British tradition, start raining, this play shines.
Runs till 8 August, and tours the country including Emmanuel College, Cambridge from 10 August till 15 August.
To see or not to see: * * * * *