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A Midsummer Night's Dream (tour– Castle Hedingham)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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A good production of A Midsummer Night's Dream needs to have a flavour of menace to give full savour to the comedy and fantasy. Raz Shaw's staging for the eight-person ensemble which is Shakespeare's Globe on Tour achieves this, though the lowering Norman keep of Hedingham Castle on an evening when the trees rustled with their own accompaniment and rain showers chased each other across the Essex skyscape may have contributed.

We're not invited to take it all too seriously. This is Shakespeare as fun, fresh minted. The time is vaguely the 1930s, and designer Hannah Clark gives us chaps in boaters and gals in bias-cut frocks. The working class may be the salt of the earth, but it knows its proper place – in overalls and ceding politely to the gentry.

It seems perfectly logical that the play begins and ends with a charleston, that odd lines are tweaked to involve the audience more directly and that Puck is a thigh-booted, suspender-snapping androgynous figure straight out of Isherwood. And that the immortals are masked and black-clad with truncated wings sprouting from their tail-coats.

The doubling of Theseus and Oberon is one with a long pedigree, as is that of Hippolita and Titania. Both Egeus and Bottom are selfish characters, so that's another piece of logical casting. Yet it's a strength of the production that the quick changes don't detract from the immediate truth of what we are watching.

All the actors have great fun with the play within the play, from its initial casting through the disastrous rehearsal to the eventual mishap-laden performance. Will Mannering brays hilariously as the grab-it-all Bottom, ably abetted by his fellow craftsmen. Cate Hammer is more fiery as Titania than as Hippolita while Jason Baughan flows the urbanity of Theseus into something altogether less noble as Oberon.

Bethan Walker's Puck is a quicksilver link between the worlds which we have been invited to enter, nimble footed and with a nice line in detached irony. The quartet of lovers – Sally Tatum as Helena, Siân Robins-Grace as Hermia, Kyle Soller as Demetrius and Chris McGill as Lysander – are well contrasted, with Tatum particularly effective as a girl who is prepared to whine to get what she wants.


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