Review: Shakespeare meets Chicago at Theatre Royal

If only every teenager, sitting bored in a classroom somewhere with one of Shakespeare’s scripts in front of them, could be dragged to the Theatre Royal this week for an appointment with all William’s potential for wildness and wantonness.

Not to mention beautifully choreographed slapstick and archly translated romantic mishaps, the likes of which us foolish mortals are doomed to encounter.

Last year, Shakespeare’s Globe brought Bury St Edmunds The Comedy of Errors - with the jokes turned up to 11. This year’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream hits similar heights.

It is performed in front of a large tent, obviously designed with outdoor theatre in mind, doubling as a home for props and musical instruments, and somewhere for actors to hide off-stage.

To call this Dream a romp would be to belittle its brilliance, but certainly it squeezes from the text every excuse to move, every invitation to insert a gag, visual or spoken.

As is becoming usual at the Theatre Royal, house lights stay up throughout and actors make numerous forays into the audience.

The sauciest sallies are by Bethan Walker as a sexy Puck: Shakespeare meets Chicago in this fiery fairy, whose black garb includes stockings, suspenders, spangly and wonderfully short shorts and a bowler hat.

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She stalks the stage, perches on theatre boxes and ends up in the lap of more than one lucky punter in the Pit. She is also a perfect foil for Simon Merrells’ slightly sleazy fairy king Oberon, who also has more than a dash of James Bond about him.

Also in black, and looking like he’s just crawled out of a casino at five in the morning, Merrells smirks at and sports with the humans and with his glamorous wife Titania (elegant, dreamy Jasmine Hyde). Overall, it’s a high-octane production, playing up the Bard’s bawdy bits, but Merrells’ character also has some of the best poetry and he gives it new charm.

This being a 1920s flappers and flannels production, he also does banjo duty during jazz breaks, the last of which even gets some of the often quiet Bury audience off their seats.

The central couples are played with huge energy, Lysander and Demetrius not just appearing bewitched but incapable of controlling the strongest sexual urges once under the spell of Puck’s magic flower. Hara Yannas is a fierce Hermia and her battles over the boys with gawky Helena are a treat.

At the bottom of it all is Bottom, William Mannering, a pocket battleship packing huge firepower for his size. He dashes upstairs, threatening to hurl himself from the dress circle after Peter Quince refuses to give him every part in the Mechanicals’ play; he makes a wonderful ass of himself in Titania’s bower and he creates great physical comedy with a heavy suit of armour and a chink in a wall.

Savour this marvellous, funny, sexy production - and then try to tell me Shakespeare is incomprehensible gobbledygook written by a bloke who died 500 years go.