‘The Dream’ is perhaps the most popular choice for open-air Shakespeare performance, and is also possibly the Bard’s most familiar play - which may not breed contempt, but it can induce ennui in the seasoned watcher. Not so with Creation Theatre’s truly magical production in the glorious setting of Headstone Hill Park, Oxford, which succeeds in enthralling, surprising and amusing the enraptured audience.
It’s common to double the roles of Theseus, Duke of Athens (Anthony Hunt) and Hippolyta, his Amazon warrior bride (Stephanie Jory), with Oberon and Titania. Here almost all the cast of eight double as Athenians and mechanicals as well, which adds to the magic and energy as performers dash on and off the set, convincing in every guise.
In their second roles, Hunt and Jory reappear on stilts and glamorously disguised with fairy robes, as sexy a pair of wrangling fairy royals as ever graced a woodland glade. Jory’s fiery Titania is all mud-streaked glamour; and Hunt’s lean and saturnine Oberon, his bared chest rivalling Mr Darcy’s, is genuinely concerned to win back his queen and restore harmony by sorting out the hapless mortals’ love life. His double act with his mischievous second-in-command, Puck (Phil Cheadle), brings real magic to the woodland glade. The pair conjure fire and water out of thin air, and Cheadle’s athletic Puck displays a constantly surprising ability to materialise unexpectedly. The enchanting depiction of Titania’s train of attendants brings a whole new meaning to the concept of fairy lights.
The lovers, Demetrius and Lysander (Tom Edden and James Thorne), play their roles to the hilt, but with a terrific sense of the absurdity of their situation, deliciously complemented by the objects of their affection – and rejection. Amanda Haberland’s sporty blonde Helena and Pippa Nixon’s plucky brunette Hermia are surely Shakespeare’s dream casting as the short and the tall of it.
Under the direction of Zoe Heaton the quartet find humour - and pathos – in the lovers and prove their comic versatility as the mechanicals, led by Darren Ormandy’s hilarious, good-natured Bottom. Earlier, as Egeus, Hermia’s unyielding father, he not only sets the plot in motion as the lovers flee to the life-changing magic of the woods, but sets a standard of clear verse speaking matched by the whole cast (with the help of voice and verse coach Richard Ryder).
To laugh until you cry at their antics is a joyous experience, here shared by an audience of all ages – a perfect introduction to theatre and Shakespeare for the primary school children sitting in front of me.