A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Review

Derby Shakespeare Theatre Company
reviewed by Jenni Balow

Cornwall’s Theatre Under the Stars was created on a cliff terrace by a remarkable woman, who sat in an upturned wheelbarrow to watch performances, and we are reminded of that this week by an exceptionally fine company of players from her home county.

The Derby Shakespeare Theatre Company is very proud of their own Rowena Cade, who moved south in the 1920s to live in her family’s seaside home, and after producing A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a meadow nearby, went on to build what is now the most famous cliff theatre in the world.

Right at the beginning of this production of the same play, a squeaky wheelbarrow is pushed onto the stage, and Persephone Quince (Joanna Hands) takes a seat in it and begins to devise an entertainment for a wedding feast, just as Rowena did many years ago.

It is one of many little touches of genius by director and designer Tim Heywood and his team that dazzle us with jewel-bright costumes in a richly exotic production that glows like A Thousand and One Nights, except that this Midsummer Night’s Dream takes place under a ‘super’ moon and meteor showers.

It is set in the 1950s, with fairies in chintzy empire line frocks, each with pert wigs in a range of rainbow colours, and their king (Richard Davey) dapper-suited in orange with two-tone brogues, blue bowler hat and rolled umbrella – who takes no time at all to strike a Usain ‘lightning bolt’ pose, on a thundery first night.

Love is in the air, but the pairing needs some adjustment, and it is down to Puck (Jack Eccles) to eventually put things right. But in between times, Helena (Laura Smith) must fling and flick her long arms and hair in great gestures of frustration, and find herself accused of being “a painted maypole” by the pony-tailed Hermia (Ami-Lou Sharpe) during brilliant verbal duels.

Lysander (James Dean) and Demetrius (Adam Horvath) are the cause of the grief, but while all that is going on, the rude mechanicals have a play to prepare, with the bobble-hatted Bottom (Matthew Shepherd) wanting to play all the parts.

He is diverted, of course, becoming more of an ass than he reckoned with, and a bit of a favourite with the Queen of the Fairies (Charlotte Matthews) especially when he swings his hips and eee-aaaws his way through an Elvis standard.

The sound by Neil Jones and Mikey Smith is key to the whole piece, so we have big band swing, Brenda Lee, Adam Faith and Frank Sinatra with a rock and roll finale – fantastic.

The players, orchestrated by producer Persephone, are huge fun, headed by Flute-voiced (Oliver Hungtingdon) a Mrs Mop style Ada Snug as the Lion (Joan Chambers), Ophelia Snout as Wall (Jenny Earl) and Mrs Starveling (Irene Button).

Flora Palmer and Ann Sharpe have concocted the best of costumes, lit by Alex Stafford.This really is a dream of a show.