The Watermill Ensemble return to their home, having gone from strength-to-strength in the past three years. Before they take on one of Shakespeare's trickier plays (the towering Hamlet) they've revived A Midsummer Night's Dream. Shakespeare's oft-performed comedy is given a breezy turn by a talented cast of ten, taking on the roles of lovers, fairies and mechanicals between them as the three groups come together (and apart) in the forest around Athens.
This production of Dream is a slick, sprightly one, thanks to some effectively nimble cuts to the text. Scenes bleed together effectively, characters will erupt on stage and often inhabit the entire space. Exchanges begin in the auditorium and often sprawl out to the circle. The cast double up, and often triple up, with costume changes happening at a speed that can cause whiplash. All this comes together thanks to The Watermill Ensemble being an impressively cohesive group, and one of the great strengths of the production.
Over the past few seasons, the Watermill Theatre has developed a formidable skill at crafting talent-led actor-musician productions, which is carried over here. The performers sing, dance, fling themselves across the stage. There is an impressive physicality on display, with this feeling like an ensemble production (something that can feel lost in other productions of Dream). No one grouping dominates, with the lovers given just as much focus here as the mechanicals and the fairies.
The ensemble are each individually fabulous, bringing personality to all the parts they play. Molly Chesworth's Puck is a rambunctious charmer, Emma McDonald a formidable Titania, evenly matched by Jamie Sattethwaite's Oberon. The mechanicals are an endearing troupe here, led by a wonderfully exasperated Peter Mooney. There is even room for a parodying of masculinity, with Tom Sowinski effectively doubling as both Theseus and Snout (who becomes Wall in the final scene). Victoria Blunt's Bottom dominates this grouping (as the character often does) and it is a terrific turn from the performer.
The lovers are a super quartet. Billy Postlethwaite offers charm and, in the second half, masculine rage as Lysander, whilst Mike Slader manages to make Demetrius a more redeemable figure than perhaps you'd expect from the text. Lucy Keril is marvellous in all of her roles, traversing the fiery Hermia to the meek Quince, whilst Robyn Sinclair feels a particularly soulful
Katie Lias' impressive set, transforming the Watermill into a Victorian musical hall, fits neatly into the rest of the production. Time is taken for some superb soulful covers, whilst the more vaudevillian moments (particularly the mechanicals' performance) feel right at home here. Sometimes you just want a rompingly enjoyable Dream, and that is what is offered here. It's all light and fun, a perfect lift for audiences on a cold February night.