Archive: Review of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Rose Theatre Kingston

Time for another review from the pre-blog vault, this time of last year’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The Rose Theatre in Kingston is the stage for one of theatre’s most hotly anticipated reunions, that of Dame Judi Dench and legendary director Peter Hall.  Forty-eight years after first collaborating on Shakespeare’s masterpiece, in this revival of A Midsummer Night’s Dream the fairy queen Titania is reimagined as a portrait of the ageing Queen Elizabeth I, realised in regal grace by Dench.

Dench’s presence instantly fills the stage from the moment she enters, able to command the audience without even uttering a word, and when she does speak it is in such rhythmic, caressing tones that you feel she was born to deliver Shakespearean verse.  This cleverly judged performance is perfectly balanced between majestic power and the girlish delight of her misplaced enchantment with Oliver Chris’s hilarious Bottom.  Never have I seen a Titania quite so radiant and utterly besotted.

Dench is clearly the highlight of this production, but that is not to ignore the excellent performances of the rest of the cast.  Oliver Chris is outstanding as overly enthusiastic aspiring thespian Bottom, provoking an eruption of laughter from the audience in Pyramus’s gloriously over-the-top death scene.  He has brilliant support from the other mechanicals, particularly Leon Williams’ Flute, who is uproarious in the final act as Thisbe.

Reece Ritchie’s mischievous, child-like Puck fizzles with uncontainable energy, leaping around the stage with infectious joy, whilst Charles Edwards is a commanding Oberon.  The lovers too deliver solid and enjoyable performances, with Rachael Stirling’s Helena standing out in particular.  She brings to the role both vulnerability and defiance, carefully treading the line between comedy and true poignancy.

The Rose Theatre, with its layout based on the original Rose Theatre on Bankside that played host to several of Shakespeare’s plays, is the ideal setting for this very Elizabethan incarnation of the play.  The 900 seat venue, with its curving, semi-circular seating arrangement, has an intimate feel – a refreshing change from sitting up in the vertigo-inducing balcony seats of large West End theatres!  Elizabeth Bury’s set design is simple yet effective, evoking what one imagines was the feel of the original Elizabethan performance, with Peter Mumford’s lighting design adding a magical sparkle to the scenes in the wood.

As you might expect from Hall’s reputation, this is an exceptional and highly enjoyable piece of theatre.  Perhaps it is not a particularly original or ground-breaking version of one of Shakespeare’s most popular and frequently performed plays, but the quality of the performances more than compensates for any lack of innovation.

Hall provides a fun, uplifting and memorable night at the theatre, sprinkled with an essential dose of fairy dust.

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