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Review of A Midsummer Night's Dream at Wicksteed Park, Kettering

I have seen three Shakespeare plays so far this year (and also Kiss Me Kate, if that counts) and rather uniquely every one of them has been outdoors, therefore upholding this pattern once more I headed off to Wicksteed Park for a little evening performance of perhaps what is regarded the Bard's most accessible play.

I hadn't seen A Midsummer Night's Dream before this Masque Theatre production, however, I had experienced a little of it at last years The Shakespeare Story Trail, so I had seen a Puck and The Mechanicals in another form.

Now, Shakespeare is a thing that I often appreciate rather than enjoy, and also admire if something a little different is attempted. Therefore this mad as a box of frogs production and indeed play was very much the most I have enjoyed Shakespeare. It is as was suggested a very accessible play, and for a first time viewing, the most I have been able to follow what is actually going on. This production, coming from the mega inventive brains (but places that few fear to tread) of Tamsyn Payne, Alex Rex and design of Megan Lucas and others, this is weird and wacky scaled up to ten, and it is a delight from beginning to end.

It helps also that the cast has been collated from very much the best available in Northampton and a little beyond as like the previous Masque show Antony & Cleopatra, it is a performance piece of delight. When you have the likes of David Chappel getting one of the best laughs of the night with the simple line "And I", you know the minor and major roles are packed brim full of talent.

The four "main" leads of this are primarily Hermia (Julia Langley), her friend Helena (Gemma Knight) and the two confused lovers of them both, Lysander (Davin Eadie) and Demetrius (for fear of getting in trouble again, a manly Alex Rex). To be honest, these four probably couldn't be better cast, Julia is the perfect and delightfully bewitching Hermia, and because of this all the funnier in the reaction of Lysander, repulsed by her very appearance. As if!

Davin, always brilliantly strong, displays perhaps the best comic performance I have seen from him and coupled in combat with Alex, create perhaps one of the funniest moments that I have seen. This truly was full on comedy wrestling, and the bruises of ambition were clearly showing. Much like the delicate place I trod on Antony & Cleopatra, the best I can say is that Alex made a very fine man, and without a doubt gets the award of best projection.

Finally completing these four is the bold and much more mature in character performance from Gemma, strong in character, but nicely played weakness still in her fear that she is being ridiculed by all the attention. Her later battles with Julia are brilliantly judged and performed with relish.

It's an impossible challenge to mention everyone in this production, and the best way of covering it, is that there truly were no weak links here, with more than a few at the best I have seen them). however, a couple more of note was Lisa Wright's Titania, definitely her strongest role for me to date. Playful, very playful, playful indeed and confidently performed throughout. Keeping it all just on the right side of control for the kiddies present as well.

Finally, we have Fraser Haines and his Bottom. What a display indeed, stealing every scene from his equally brilliant acting colleagues. the superb Mechanicals, this was a masterclass performance. Making his scenes appreciated by everyone with his perfect clown performance, with the adults getting the grown-up bits and the kids in the audience delighting clearly with their giggling at his facial mannerisms. Just brilliant, simply that.

While almost perfect, there are a few little issues including occasional sound projection issues, that while I sat right at stage edge, and heard pretty much everything, it was pretty clear that some of the scenes upstage were not going to carry to the top of the hill with perfect clarity. Also, what felt a little-underdeveloped performance wise were the musical numbers, that while nicely performed were also a little hesitant at times and surprisingly unpowerful. I suspect this was maybe one of the penalties of just not having enough time available.

However any criticism is seriously minor as this was in the top fun for me with Shakespeare, and on the back of seeing the wonderful and equally bizarre Titus Andronicus, has meant that I have had a pretty good year with Shakespeare.

Huge congratulations to all involved with this, it was indeed dreamy, entertained all ages and performed in a most wonderful location, and what weather! The stars aligned to create some theatre magic.

Performance reviewed: Wednesday 23rd 2017 at Wicksteed Park, Kettering. 
A Midsummer Night's Dream was performed by the Masque Theatre between Tuesday 22nd and Thursday 24th August at Wicksteed Park, Kettering.
Masque has a website for details of upcoming shows at http://www.masquetheatre.co.uk/

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