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RSC A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Play For The Nation - Review

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Freelance journalist with a passion for theatre, the arts, food and books.
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Midsummer Magic & Mayhem Is Dream Of A Play
Out of all Shakespeare's plays, the mischievous comedy of A Midsummer Night's Dream has been selected as the RSC's play for a nation to celebrate the 400th anniversary since the playwright's death. That's probably because it's a fun, joyous tale with some memorable Shakespeare lines that can enthrall and embrace all ages when done right.

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Play For the Nation, RSC, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, review
A Midsummer's Night's Dream is on at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre

When I saw it, there were many eager children hoping to be bewitched by this new, modern production from the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford upon Avon, where it remains until July 16 following a recent UK tour.

In true all-embracing fashion, it strikes a chord with people of today's Britain. There's a diverse cast of all ages, shapes, sizes and ethnicities including children from the local school as Titania's Fairy Train and amateur actors fittingly playing the Rude Mechnanicals alongside 18 professional actors.

The play feels fresh and exciting, but after all, it has been injected with the energy of director Erica Whyman, who is also the RSC's Deputy Artistic Director. Whyman has been working on the project for over two years and her efforts have been rewarded with a visually striking, spirited version of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

For those not au fait with the romantic comedy, it is a magical tale that sees the quarelling King and Queen of the Fairies - Oberon and Titania - playing havoc with the love lives of humans Hermia, Lysander, Helena and Demetrius using spells and their sprightly minx of a fairy, Puck.

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Play For the Nation, RSC, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, review
Lucy Ellinson as Puck and Chu Omambala as Oberon have a wonderful chemistry in this sprightly comedy

During a midsummer evening in a forest, our young lovers are played with like puppets along with a bunch of hapless amateur actors, who unwittingly get caught up in the shenanigans as they rehearse in the forest ahead of their performance for the Duke's wedding.

This group of Rude Mechanicals were played by amateurs from The People's Theatre in Newcastle at the performance I saw, but the roles have been rotated among 14 amateur dramatic groups nationwide.

The People's Theatre players were slick and had a fantastic rapport with the crowd and held their own on stage despite starring alongside professionals with far greater experience. Their wide-eyed enthusiasm was infectious and the irony of amateurs playing the amateurs within this play wasn't lost on the audience.

Visually, it's a stark but imaginative stage. Whyman has turned the Athens of Shakespeare's play into a post-war 1940s era and the action takes place amid a backdrop of ruins while the enchanted forest is represented by doorways and a moving staircase that are cleverly used as our main characters get more and more lost in the woods.

Most noticably, there's a vibrant red colour theme throughout. Red pieces of material lie strewn across the floor like rose petals while the dazzling outfit of fairy queen Titania is a scarlet ball gown.

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Play For the Nation, RSC, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, review
Mischief and romance make this story a play for the nation

Red for passion, red for love and red for a production designed by Tom Piper, who collaborated with Paul Cummins and The Tower of London on the extraordinary commemorative poppy installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red. Red obviously means a lot to him - and it works.

It's all very much played for laughs and the madcap misunderstandings between the lovers is hilarious and zany. At one point, Lysander shouts at Hermia that she's a "dwarf" as a vertically challenged actor runs on and kicks him.

At the centre of the frivolity is fairy Puck. Lucy Ellinson is wonderfully lithe, mischievous and sprightly in the role, whether she's climbing over the audience or flitting around on stage. She has a lovely chemistry with Chu Omambala's jazz influenced Oberon. Omambala is hypnotising in the role and manages to exhibit an unearthly quality that makes him believable as the King of the Fairies.

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Play For the Nation, RSC, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, review
Hilarious scenes between the lovers make A Midsummer Night's Dream a lively comedy

A seductive Ayesha Dharker plays his Queen, Titania, who is fooled into romancing half-witted Mechanicals' player Bottom even after his head has been transformed into a donkey's.

This is my only real issue with the production, that it assumes knowledge of the story as Bottom's costume doesn't resemble much of an ass. For those that know what he's supposed to be, you can see the design of his red headpiece has something of the long ears about it but I think it would have been funnier and more clearcut for newcomers to the play and children if Bottom appeared with more features of a donkey and maybe even the sounds or characteristics.

That said, this is a wonderfully memorable version and Whyman has created an energetic, fun and visually stunning Midsummer Night's Dream that is a worthy celebration for this anniversary year and, no doubt, maintain it as a play for the nation to cherish.

Rating: 8/10

A Midsummer Night's Dream by the RSC
Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Stratford upon Avon
UNTIL 16 JULY 2016
Tickets cost from 5 from the RSC website or by calling the Box Office on 01789 403493.

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Why? See Shakespeare's sprightly fun play for all the family
When: Until July 16, 2016
Phone: Box Office 01789 403493
Where: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon
Cost: From 5
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