'I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was.'
So testifies Nick Bottom, spectacularly re-emerging from a fairy realm in incomprehension. The interaction between worlds in Midsummer is a great metaphor for the power of theatre, and this production wonderfully embeds the 'real world' of the play in the real world of beautiful buildings, streets and gardens. We find that it's not only Oxford's spires that dream - following a fairy pair down Hollybush Row, spying their king and queen through holes in a wall near OVADA, the audience is taken off the beaten track.
We are an audience, but also participants - following clues, furtively stalking cast members - in this treasure-hunt-like structure. Clues aren't pitched over the heads of kids, so there are many reasons to make this a family evening out. The experience is intricately designed, and the scattered audience begin in groups across western OX1. We then encounter individual characters sequentially, and the way they relate to their un-theatre-like locations is neat: Lysander sags off his job at a local printer's to Skype Helena, Hermia hustles a phone off us to set up her frenemy story arc with Helena, and so on. We're kept on the edge of our non-existent seats by wondering which passer-by will next reveal themselves to be part of the modern-day-adapted Athenian court, and whether we just accidentally interacted with an unsuspecting member of the public. Only uniting for the closing acts, our groups are somehow kept separate, so, respect to Creation Theatre for pulling off this logistically impressive and thematically appropriate treatment of a familiar tale.
Does all this count if the comedy falls flat? I suspect this production would only be admirable if so, but it passes the six-laugh test several times over. Our crew of rude mechanicals convey the merry hell of amateur dramatics, with all its rivalries, euphemistic directorial encouragements and vain ambitions. Simon Yadoo shines and gets his audience on side in the role he's always wanted to play, hilariously hammy 'in character' and stupendously, verbosely dim as Bottom in rehearsal. Shelley Atkinson plays director Patsy Quince with consummate matronly encouragement, and nearly made me spit out my complimentary wine with laughter when she took to 'the stage', and suddenly acted with the ineptitude of a rabbit in some headlights. Audience participation is sometimes a bore, but our thespians had us auditioning as nocturnal creatures and joining in with easy glee.
There are fun sonic elements, an entirely 2D reality projected onto surfaces, cartoonish physical theatre as the lovers quarrel and fight in a rainy churchyard, and Sam Davies' truly Puckish Puck (channelling Richard O'Brien), master of minstrelsy and disguise. This loose adaptation retains narrative arcs and maybe 60% of Shakespeare's text, adding improvisation and scattered reminiscences of The Crystal Maze, to immersively adapt this layered comedy and transform Oxford's byways into another realm. Fantastic.