Michael Pennington's new production promises us a Dream with a Mediterranean flavour. And indeed, he offers us a heady Grecian blast - at least for the first few minutes, as Theseus and Hippolyta take the stage to the gentle sound of the bazouki.
If we think that this is going to presage an evening of exoticism, we're rudely disappointed as John Hodgkinson's military boor of a Theseus, bullies and blusters like a peppery old British army colonel - he's very good, but it's not exactly Hellenic.
Pennington introduces a level of contrast between Demetrius and Lysander by making the former a besuited prig and the latter, a low-life boho. It seems to me, though, that making such a distinction goes against the text, which describes them as equals. It also has the effect of making Egeus a more reasonable character, determined to do his best for his daughter, rather than a petty tyrant.
Pennington's quartet of young lovers struggle with the poetry of Shakespeare's text (and the, admittedly, difficult acoustics of the Open Air Theatre). I've seen many productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and all too often, it's the lovers who constitute the weakest spot. These four seem particularly weak with only Nick Fletcher's Lysander really getting to grips with the demands of the part.
But what disappoints most is the portrayal of the fairies. My, but Dale Rapley's Oberon and Issy van Randwyck's Titania are angry. Theirs is supposed to be a minor spat, quickly forgotten. From the way this Titania rants, you fully expect the fairy divorce lawyer to make an appearance after the interval.
Thankfully, the rude mechanicals restore the spirits. This is a motley, Celtic collection, with Peter Forbes' broad Scottish Bottom providing the few comic moments in the first half of the play, although John Conroy's Quince shines in a Noel Coward impersonation later on.
It's great to finally get a new production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at this address - the old Park offering was fine, but couldn't really stand repeated viewings - and I wanted to love it (seeing the bard's pastoral comedy in this setting is always a joy). But Pennington's production - which doesn't dwell on the play's darker, more sexual elements of the play, as many productions have done recently - is, on the whole, laboured. There are a few true high spots, but most of it's rather flat.
And for a production that's supposed to have a Grecian feel, too many characters have adopted the 1980s pop stars look. My guess is that Oberon is meant to be Marillion's Fish, Puck is from Right Said Fred and Moth an extra from the Michael Jackson Thriller video. Do I win the prize?
- Maxwell Cooter