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A Midsummer Night's Dream

Oxford Shakespeare Company's sparkling new production in exquisite surroundings.
Cornbury Park, Charlbury and Wadham Gardens, June/July 2007

July 23, 2007
See this while you can – or miss one of Oxford’s best ever Shakespeare productions. Sparkling with creativity and wit, this is a light-touch production of a light-touch play, wringing every nuance from the language and the laughter.

Oxford Shakespeare Company has an enviable repertoire of imaginatively-directed plays and their 2007 Midsummer Night’s Dream pushes the bar even further. The ten-strong cast carry off the poetry and the performances with beguiling simplicity – hiding the hard work they’ve undoubtedly put in.

The fantastical story of the fairyland world playing games with a woodland world of wooing lovers looks awkward on paper. But in the mouths and minds of these players, the play comes alive with fluid clarity – running through its two-hours like a well-oiled machine.

While Andrew Hodges’ performances as Bottom and Demetrius will rightly attract applause, all the cast deserve plaudits for their unselfish contributions to a well-knit whole. Hodges is a gifted comedian: better, he has a Branagh-like ability of word and gesture, bringing the poetry and comedy bursting to life.

Sarah Jane Wolverson’s Helena runs from sad to sexy in a deftly delivered spectrum of comedy and emotion – nicely contrasted with Alice Keenan’s fiery-spirited, funny Hermia. Richard Keightley’s curly-haired Lysander brings a bouncily love-lorn contrast to Hodges’ burly Demetrius. Such contrasts are not accidental and director Jilly Bond mines the gold.

Lessons in language are given by David Chittenden’s virile Oberon and unctuous Theseus, and by the fluency of Kirsty Yates’ Titania. Physical presence and comedy is beautifully conveyed by Joanna Morse Palmer’s aerial acrobatics, mirrored by Charlotte Baltrop-Gallet’s clownish copying.

Becci Gemmell’s Puck is a buzz-fly of childish energy, bagging laughs from merest movements and reactions. Ian Cairns’ comedic Quince/Wall gets to wear bricks and a tutu and wins the audience in both.

Shot through with sexiness, this is a sensuous, fast-paced production which can’t fail to leave wide grins on happy faces. See it in the sun and enjoy a play in full bloom. If wet, it’ll bring the sun back to your summer.

Musical, physical, fluid and fun – no eye has seen, nor ear has heard an Oxford play so thoroughly enjoyable - well, not for ages anyway.

July 11, 2007
This is the second production of ‘The Dream’ in Oxford so far this year. There are 2 more to open this summer and another to follow in the autumn. A veritable feast (or glut) of dreams could be seen as a nightmare. Luckily, it is a play open to a variety of interpretations and settings and it is, perhaps, the most popular of all Shakespeare’s plays.

Why choose this production? OSC have a track record of providing high quality, energetic outdoor performances. This is the fourth year running I have reviewed them. This is a worthy addition to their growing list of successes.

Wadham College Gardens provide an appropriately wooded setting for the action – augmented this year by a playground of scaffolding. It is a good use of the space and adds to the atmosphere of the production. The subtle use of off-stage music added greatly to this.

Any production of the play stands or falls on the performances. I have to say there is one performer whose energy, commitment and talent is worth the price of admission alone – Andrew Hodges. He plays Demetrius and Bottom with huge heart and great comic timing. The stage lights up every time he appears. Sarah Jane Wolverson as Helena stands out amongst the female actors. She gives a lively and often moving portrayal of the much-abused love-sick follower and immediately gains the empathy of the audience for her plight.

As a whole, the cast speak the verse with clarity and care (particular praise must go to David Chittenden as Oberon/Theseus whose projection was faultless) – ensuring that very few words are lost – even when competing with sirens, helicopters and other Oxford noise!

I have to admit that I am not a fan of the play – this production hasn’t completely won me over (I doubt any production could!) – but I would go again simply to enjoy the performances. I suggest you do the same.
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