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A Midsummer Night's Dream (Liverpool Everyman)

Nick Bagnall's production makes for an "enchanted evening"

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Cynthia Erivo as Puck
© Gary Calton

With so many versions of much-performed works, is there a danger of becoming bored with the Bard? Of course not; Shakespeare always provides infinite variety, and the Everyman's associate director Nick Bagnall, and designer Ashley Martin-Davis have gone to town with rustic fantasy in a truly innovative production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

For a start, the acrobatic Puck is a woman (Cynthia Erivo), decked out as Master of Ceremonies, and the play opens with lush, unsettling music on a bare stage set with the bases of four pillars, the backdrop a graffiti scrawled blackboard. So it should not come as a surprise that the star-cross'd lovers are students. But it does, until the realisation that it works wonderfully well, particularly the scene in the forest when they start arguing and fighting: passion, petulance, hissy fits – typical teengers. Astonishing performances, and all recent graduates: Charlotte Hope (Hermia); Emma Curtis (Helena); Tom Varey (Lysander); and Matt Whitchurch (Demetrius).

Another surprise comes when the stage widens out at the back to reveal said forest – a ton of torn white paper, like leaves which conceal all sorts: doors, people etc; all the floundering and frustration from being hopelessly lost. Except, it creates quite a racket, and with everybody rushing around, things get pretty noisy; the music from the onstage band, whilst atmospherically menacing as well as melodic, occasionally drowns out the dialogue.

Still, also inventive are the props, such as the grim Ass's head, especially those wielded by the Rude Mechanicals – yes, extremely rude. Their performance, craftily led by Andrew Schofield as Peter Quince, is hilarious, receiving applause at every turn, what with Alan Stocks (Tom Snout/Wall), and Dean Nolan's irrepressible, larger than life Bottom, whether duetting with Titania, or with Thisbe (Francis Flute), as Pyramus.

The masterstroke of the production are the fairies; no dainty sprites, these are more akin to Dadd's evil spirits; distinctly eerie, from Garry Cooper's sinister Oberon growling and prowling around the stage, to a disorientated Titania (Sharon Duncan-Brewster). Her beautiful frock is un-matched; no pretty wings and gauze for their black clad attendants, reminiscent of the border of Munch's Madonna. The other double act, white clad Theseus and Hippolyta, to an extent, does pale by comparison.

A lot of ground is covered in the space of this one magical night, and it's exactly what people can look forward to: an enchanted evening.

A Midsummer Night's Dream runs at the Liverpool Everyman until 18 April 2015.