Midsummer Night's Dream, Saffron Walden

A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Pantaloons open air production, Bridge End Garden, Saffron Walden, Sunday July 8

A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Pantaloons open air production, Bridge End Garden, Saffron Walden, Sunday July 8

Brimming with energy, highly physical and very, very funny, The Pantaloons brought us A Midsummer Night's Dream to remember long after we wake up.

Implacable purists could find the odd reference to current TV shows a little off-putting but for me this is the way Shakespeare would have wanted it - a vibrant, current and highly intelligent production, not afraid to poke fun at itself and happy to talk to its audience.

The theatre group has a growing reputation for making Shakespeare accessible and from its all-male As You Like It to its merry but ultimately moving Romeo and Juliet, it has brought out a side of The Bard that you could miss if you merely read the text.

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It is difficult to think of anything new that can be done with this wondrous midsummer comedy and yet I have never loved the lovers more.

The seven members of the cast, their first class performances enhanced by an original soundtrack and songs from musician Mark Hayward, doubled and tripled up on parts but never lost sight of the tangled love story at the heart of this magical tale.

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The hurt whimpers of unloved and then much-loved Helena (Caitlin Storey), the shocked disbelief of adored and then reviled Hermia (Sarah Norton), and the plodding advances of their not-very-bright suitors, Demetrius (Oli Seadon) and Lysander (Dave Hughes) are delivered at a breathtaking pace.

The immortals are a grotesque bunch of weirdoes led by a growly Oberon (Dave Hughes again) and his not-terribly-fairy-like Titania (played by actor/director Steve Purcell in a cheap wig and skirt). Dom Conway gave us a wilful Puck whose contorted movements set him apart, even among his own kind.

The mechanicals - a troupe of local artisans giving their Pyramus and Thisbe for the Duke's wedding - go big on accents - Welsh, Brummie and (inevitably) west country among them.

Bottom (Martin Gibbons), the bragging weaver who wants to play all the parts, ends up in Titania's bower wearing an ass's head. While I have seen this scene played as Bottom's transport of delight, in this production Titania is really no oil painting so maybe it was more Bottom's nightmare than dream.

On its way to Edinburgh, this production has stopped off at the Brighton Festival, Canterbury and Stratford upon Avon. But the two performances in Saffron Walden were unique because there was no rain. You have to wonder if the idea to use large black umbrellas as scenery and punctuating props might have tempted fate.

Lynne Mortimer

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