Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre, Chester
July 12-August 27, 2023; 2 hrs
A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the open air and lovely surroundings: a splendid summer's afternoon (I saw a matinee) or a damp squib?
The weather can often mean the latter was more likely, and steady rain was falling throughout the second act. So it was to the credit of the well-practised cast and staff that the show carried on in what turned out to be trying conditions, namely pools of water around the stage, the odd umbrella blowing down the terrace and a soggy bench for an actor feigning sleep to lie on. Understandably, the seats weren't full, but it didn't diminish the performance or audience enjoyment.
‘Dream’ is well known, of course, and this production is played fairly straight, except the "rude mechanicals" are this time not local tradesmen but a circus group rehearsing in the woods for a show they will perform at the Duke's wedding.
Behind the action lie Oberon and Puck, other-worldly figures playing mischievously with the affections of all, not least the four lovers. In the farcical events that ensue, where people fall in love with those normally ignored or reviled and the most attractive are humiliated, the nature of love and affection is shown to be irrational and capricious. Love often makes a fool of us as we pursue what to others seems nonsensical. But all is well in the end, each partner meets their match, the play is presented and the ignominious humiliations ordained by Oberon and Puck were just a dream.
Though the whole cast is excellent, Daniel Burke as Oberon/Theseus and Victoria Brazier as Bottom are notable, while Molly-Grace Cutler is suitably mischievous as Puck. Adam Scott Pringle stood in as Flute at late notice and two cast members, Kameron Skeene and Lauren Sturgess made their professional debut (thanks to Storyhouse's scheme to help 17 to 25-year-olds to build a professional acting career.
Elvi Piper's production sticks faithfully to the original, though there is nice ad-libbing to take account of the place, weather and time. The setting is more interesting than usual, replacing a glade in the woods and the home for fairies, with a circus backdrop and a travelling group of players heading to Athens for the nuptials of the Duke.
Why the genders of Titania and Bottom are swapped remains a mystery; other than making a statement about gender, it adds little to the play. But this doesn't spoil an enjoyable afternoon's entertainment, which wins plenty of laughs – despite soggy conditions.
Tickets and information here