I've always had the suspicion that theatre, like eating, is something best undertaken indoors. Setting the scene with a makeshift stage or a tartan picnic rug may seem like a good idea when you're setting out, but the whole experience risks being marred by insects, noise, and that great unpredictable - the British weather. That said, with desperate lovers, wayward fairies and dim artisans, the current Creation Theatre production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Headington Hill Park is well worth risking the elements, and there's no denying that, putting aside a city girl's instinctive distrust of nature, the setting adds to the atmosphere.
In true Creation style, director Zoe Seaton has chosen to help the action along with unashamed physical comedy and visual effects. The lovers are boisterous, the fairies suggestive, and the mechanicals are - well, pretty rude, and the audience is further entertained with acrobatics, magic tricks, and to-the-second choreography. The only problem with this is that, visually impressive as they are, the more extreme of these touches can detract a little from what's going on. If someone's walking around on stilts I can find myself a little too worried about whether they're going to fall off to give my full attention to what they're saying.
The small cast really all deserve mention; they had an awful lot to do, and they certainly delivered. Amanda Haberland gave us a vulnerable, but still gloriously petulant version of Helena, and while Tom Edden produced a wonderfully oily Demetrius, his camping up of Peter Quince was honestly an absolute joy. Stephanie Jory's Titania was unsettling, and her Hippolyta unusually touching. Oh, and clearly, a northern accent makes for a sexier Puck (Phil Cheadle).
Touching, undaunting, artfully put together and really very funny, this production, after a slightly slow start, had the whole audience in fits and even succeeded in reconciling the sceptical young man I took with me to having been lured away from the weekly pub quiz. The park's a lovely setting, a lot of effort has clearly gone into creating a magical atmosphere, and I defy anyone but the dourest of Shakespeare purists not to be charmed. Just pray it doesn't rain.
Susie Cogan, 12/7/05