DIRECTOR Gary Sefton can apparently do no wrong. The latest in a succession of five-star productions for Northampton’s Royal&Derngate, this extraordinary, hugely inventive and highly entertaining show should therefore come as no surprise.
But when it comes to Shakespeare, some directors who are good in their niche can be left exposed by the scale or particular requirements of the Bard. Sefton has no such difficulties.
This Edwardian Dream is endlessly imaginative, elegantly creative and hilarious enough to evince genuine tears of laughter. Cut – extremely intelligently – to an hour each way, it fizzes and froths with wit, energy and an infectious sense of unadulterated joy.
The cast of just eight are used hard. Every member doubles parts between the Athenian court and the magical forest, and is required to work especially diligently with character and costume changes, acrobatic coverage of the elaborate set and a plethora of regional accents. Fortunately, each rises to the challenge with stunning confidence.
Silas Carson and Amy Robbins are aristocratic and statuesque as the Greek lords and their woodland equivalents, Oberon and Titania. Some of the best verse-speaking is delivered by this pair, but they are also adept at conjuring moments of sultry tenderness or fiery fury.
Colin Ryan’s Puck is as delightfully sinister a creation as you could wish for, grinning wickedly as a lugubrious butler before ungloving a set of bright blue limbs to become the mischievous sprite, agile and always lurking above the enchanted lovers.
Charlie Archer, Oliver Gomm, Frances McNamee and Naomi Sheldon play the young quartet of mismatched and misunderstood suitors with vigour and charm, each finding a perfect level of bewilderment and youthful spirit and collectively imbuing the foursome with real character-based humour.
And as for Joe Alessi’s blunt, northern Bottom, his sense of comic timing is, quite simply, immaculate. He knows exactly where to place a line for maximum effect, offers a masterclass in the double-take and holds the audience comfortably in his hands as he teases out one belly-laugh after another. The late scene of the rustics’ play within a play – so often overblown and rather tedious – is as funny here as I have ever seen it.
Credit must also be given to the creative team, whose meticulous and clever input lays the groundwork for the production’s fluidity and warmth. Designer Ti Green has come up with an ingenious fabrication of wooden posts, platforms and windows that move – or rather, are moved magically by Puck – to create different locations, clothed in swathes of lush drapery that are beautifully lit by Richard Godin. Sound designer Jon Nicholls, meanwhile, has composed an underscore combining subtle, emotive music with evocative sound effects, adding a whole new dimension to the eeriness of the fairies’ world.
It’s another triumph for both Sefton and the Royal. Whether you’ve seen the Dream before or not, it’s a landmark production that comes highly recommended.