6 JUNE 1992, Page 53


A Midsummer Night's Dream (Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park)

Starry night

Christopher Edwards

This production, directed by Ian Talbot, is a fine celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. Of course the setting helps. A visit to this the- atre carries a special elemental sense of excitement. Sitting under the stars, listen- ing to the birds and watching the light fall are all very diverting, but will you get soaked to the skin?

There are also other important consider- ations associated with outdoor theatre, such as food and drink. The catering in Regent's Park is good. Before and during the production, you can eat and drink very well: punch, German sausages and home- made cakes are available, along with other decent wines and cold and hot fare. Blan- kets can be hired if the temperature drops, and there is even a sachet of free insect repellent attached to your programme.

So much for touristic 'charm'. No one would bother going out of their way if the production itself were sub-standard. This one is first-rate: clear-sighted and very entertaining. While love and marriage are essential to the play's concerns, Shake- speare deals with the comic as well as the romantic aspects of love — its obstacles as well as its aberrations. 'How I love thee, how I dote on thee' is a sentiment often heard, but Shakespeare's devoted lovers are, despite their protestations, violent, inconstant, baffled and absurd. Titania, the Queen of the Fairies, suffers the reductio ad absurdum of love's folly — falling in love with Bottom in his transformed shape

of an ass. But this is merely a grotesque satire on the irrational shifts in affection to which the quartet of young lovers — Her- mia, Lysander, Demetrius and Helena — is subject. And it is on them that the audi- ence's affections are mainly focused, The opening scene contains a nice touch. The two young men, Lysander and Demetrius, are seen fencing playfully with each other, until rivalry and hot-blooded- ness quickly turn their practice into some- thing more dangerous. This sudden switch, from apparent friendship to bitter enmity, prefigures the experiences of the young lovers in the forest after Puck bungles his instructions from Oberon and wrongly administers the love potion.

The twists and turns of devotion and loathing produce a great deal of entertain- ing comic business. We see Oliver Parker's Demetrius and Nigel Hasting's Lysander pulsating ecstatically at the feet of an incredulous Helena (Anna Patrick), while Hermia (Sarah-Jane Holm), adored only moments before, stares disbelievingly on. Helena smells a rat and thinks they are all in it together to mock her, but then a little look of self-satisfaction crosses her face as she thinks it might, after all, be for real. The fights between the two men and the two women are very athletic, inventive and funny, with just the necessary edge of real menace to balance their absurdity.

Equally impressive are the Fairies and the artisans. Ken Bones's Oberon is an intense, brooding figure, while Jane Maud's Titania is one of the most powerful and erotically charged Queen of the Fairies I have seen. Both wear wings that rear up like hackles when they are angry. Puck and the attendant fairies are lusty, punkish- looking goblins, but sweet-voiced when called upon to sing Mark Emney's lovely flute-led musical arrangements.

Dinsdale Landen's Bottom is superb: earthy, clownish, vain and bossy during rehearsals of their play, very funny indeed when transformed into an ass. The ass's head is one of the most expressive you have ever seen — eyes that roll, ears that wag- gle, lips that curl (the fact that its teeth seem to resemble the actor's own promi- 'We've got to put a stop to this obscene trade in Harris tweed.' nent set adds to the joke). And the final hilarious, amateurish performance of their play gives each of the artisans a brief moment of comic stardom, before the evening closes on a note of nuptial harmo- ny in all spheres — mortal and fairy. If the other two productions in the season — As You Like It and the Gershwin musical Lady Be Good — are up to this standard, the theatre is in for a superb season, weather of course permitting.