The mid-summer weather may well have tried it’s hardest to turn Shakespeare’s joyous and much-loved comedy of twinkly fairy magic and poetic sweetness into more of a rainy nightmare than a dream, but it did nothing to dampen the spirits of the audience or the players.
Even those with the entirely outdoor groundling tickets fared the slightly wet evening reasonably well, to enjoy a superb rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The production at Blenheim Palace’s Rose Theatre, that was painstakingly created from scratch over a three week period, was a triumph of fairies, magic, love and romance with some exceptional aerial displays and fine, engaging performances from the cast in Director Juliet Forster’s production.
The play, considered by some to be more poem than play, does of course follow the stories of lovers, fairies, magic and the original dream sequence.
Director Juliet Foster was struck by how the main dramatic action springs from a father’s refusal to allow his daughter to choose her own husband, and that gender inequality and conflict between the sexes is prevalent throughout the play.
In Athens, preparations are under way for the wedding of Duke Theseus and Hippolyta. Egeus (Paul Stonehouse), a nobleman, wants his daughter Hermia (played by the fabulous and funny Francesca Zoutewelle) to marry Demetrius (Mark Peachey) but she is determined not to as she is in love with Lysander (Nana Amoo-Gottfried). The lovers plan their escape to the forest and let their friend Helena (Elexi Walker) into the secret who then tells Demetrius-whom she hilariously lusts after in a comically desperate attempt to win his affections.
While all this unfolds, a group of Athenian workmen are in rehearsals for a play that is to be performed to celebrate the impending royal wedding. This play within a play stars the superb Suzy Cooper as a despairing Peter Quince trying his best to keep the workmen under control but the absolute star has to be Paul Hawkyard who plays Bottom. A truly magnificent performance from this superb actor-he held the audience captivated by his booming voice, hilarious escapades and magnificent stage presence.
Meanwhile in the forest the fairy king and queen are squabbling. Oberon ( Adam Slynn) plots with his servant Puck (played perfectly by Charlie Cameron) to play a trick on Titania (Ellie Burrow). The juice of a magic flower will make her fall in love with the first creature she sees when she wakes. Oberon overhears Demitrius clearly continuing to reject the love-sick Helena and instructs Puck to also pour the magic juice into his eyes so that he will love Helena. But, of course, now both men are in love with Helena and hate Hermia! The four lovers quarrel and fall asleep exhausted. Puck works the fairy magic once more so that Lysander will love Hermia again when he wakes.
The workmen are also in the forest rehearsing their play when Puck turns Bottom into a monster by placing the head of an ass on his shoulders and the charmed Titania falls hopelessly in love with him.
The aerial choreography from movement director Maria Gray who also starred as fairy Cobweb, was breath taking and brilliant as the fairies swooped and skipped and ‘flew’ across the stage with such nimble yet dramatic grace to many gasps from the audience.
More enchantment and fairy spells ensue before the happy ending of not only the royal wedding and the workmen’s play which is performed with great comic success, but also the news that the lovers may marry who they wish, and Bottom is finally restored to human form.
But, of course, it has all been a dream…
As well as the excellent cast, direction and stunning theatrical setting, the Shakespearian village and even the odd moth flitting by as the sun went down and the drizzle stopped, all made this a memorable and enchanting evening.
Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre runs at Blenheim Palace until Sept 7.
Tickets at blenheimpalace.com