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A Midsummer Night's Dream (tour - Radlett, Arts Centre)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Cut-price can be a trap. It can also be a bonus. Sell A Door Theatre's new touring production of A Midsummer Night's Dream begins slowly – too slowly considering that there is minimal scenery – but picks up pace and, by the time we reach the fourth and fifth acts, has its audience thoroughly engaged.

It's a modern-dress production with eight of the nine actors playing several parts. The now-standard doubling of Theseus and Oberon, Hippolyta and Titania is conventional but the pairing of various members of the would-be thespian artisans with the at-odds lovers throws up some interesting psychological parallels.

Hermia (Kate Craggs) is at first a teenager in love with love, so much so that she almost embarrasses Elliot Fitzpatrick]'s Lysander. Kate Sobey's Helena begins as an awkward stick; you can see why James Donovan's buttoned-up Demetrius might have gone off her. Joseph Capp as Theseus seems uncomfortable with both his authority and his bride, a man much happier on a horse than in the council-chamber.

Once we're out of Athens (a formal arrangement of doors in designer Richard Evans scheme) and into the wood (green umbrellas doubling as trees) things liven up and both the verse-speaking and the interplay of characters becomes more natural. Quince, suffering from all the difficulties inherent in any group of amateur actors more intent on themselves than the work in hand, is Jason Devoy, the authoritarian Egeus of the first scene.

His principal problem is Bottom (Tommy Aslett) who is very funny both in his own person, as the ass' headed butt of Puck's trick and as the bombastic Pyramus. Capp is a laid-back Oberon and Laura Harding's Titania is as queenly as her Hippolyta, though much more amusing in her mistaken infatuation as the hard-won Amazon queen could ever be.

Director Bryn Holding makes Puck the master of ceremonies throughout the action. David Eaton, with his intelligent doubling of Puck with Philostrate, wanders onstage dressed in a motley of rags and patches with a radio tuned to flood and gale warnings to remind us that the Oberon-Titania dispute has set the climate as well as themselves at odds. It's an intriguing characterisation, which grows on one as the performance progresses.


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