You can scarcely move through Oxford without navigating your way through shoals of students revising or on their way to sit exams.
Yet Oxford University students' Theatron Novum production of The Fairy Queen at the Playhouse last night was spectacular: over forty singers and instrumentalists, actors, dancers and a large production team bought Henry Purcell's operatic reworking of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream to vivid life.
Director Dionysios Kyropoulos' reading was of a 'multifaceted spectacle' and he succeeded in bringing the magical story to magnificent life. Musical Director Adrianna Stoiber called on singers and instrumentalists to challenge themselves to breathe new life into the three hundred year old score. Rehearsals under Orchestra Leader James Hardie began in Michaelmas Term at the beginning of the academic year – a huge time commitment to master an ambitious score.
Drawing from music, dance and drama, the three worlds of the Mortals, the Fairies and the Mechanicals were brilliantly realised. Rebecca Thornton's set design and Klara Kofen's wonderfully quirky costumes contributed to the visual success of the drama, while Amy Thompson's choreography and expressive dancers added to the grace and magic of the fairy world. In particular, Alex Stoffel and Marta Arnaldi's duet was superb.
Rebecca Bowen (Titania) and Laurence Belcher (Oberon) were outstanding – commanding and quixotic, peevish and haughty by turns, all the while presiding over the Dadd-like fairy world. Hermia (Anushka Chakravarti) and Helena (Hannah Marsters) were endearing, their pain and bewilderment raw and real as EastEnders, despite their surreal black and white tutus and patterned tights. Demetrius' (Tobias Sims) love switch was all too familiar, and Lysander's (Joe Stephenson) disdain carelessly wounding. We've all been there. Ivo Gruev's pompous Egeus and the Duke's (Beth Evans) reluctant clarity was crisply realised.
The Mechanicals were a delight. Gregory Coates' Bottom subsumed the stage with his rhapsodic clowning, and Will Spence's Thisbe, with a slippery mop on top was a brilliant foil. I loved the Mechanicals costumes – overalls out of a paintballing session.
Superb performances by soloists Patrick Keefe, Amschel de Rothschild and Raphael Milliere, Johanna Harrison and Sofia Kirwan-Baez among so many talented singers were a joy. What a spectacular precursor to the start to Oxford Early Music Festival next week. With more feasts like this to come, we are fortunate to be in or close to Oxford in the next few days to support them.