A Midsummer Night's Dream, Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, London

The summer's warmth still lacking in this Dream
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The Independent Culture

It's no wonder the Athenian Men take to the forest in Michael Pennington's A Midsummer Night's Dream, considering the stroppiness of their womenfolk.

Phillipa Peak's chilly Hippolyta, the reluctant Amazon Bride, isn't the only one who gives the boys a hard time. Claire Redcliffe's Hermia is a pouty princess who, when told she must marry her father's choice, doesn't seem despondent at losing her true love but is indignant at not getting her own way. When she and Lysander elope, she orders him to bed down a respectable distance away as if laying down the law to a reluctant toddler. Helena (Victoria Woodward) hurls herself at her unrequited love, Demetrius, as if seeking to bring him down with a rugby tackle.

The forest females, though, are no better. Issy van Randwyck's Titania stridently rants at Oberon, who, as played by Dale Rapley, is himself a bawling bully. The fairies' faces look dead under haystack wigs and silent-film make-up, and their costumes (by Paul Farnsworth) are messy patchworks of fabric that have been ripped and ruched to a fare-thee-well. Josepth Alessi's Puck, earthbound and ill-tempered, makes a vigorous obscene gesture when reproved by his master.

The lack of femininity and fluid movement are everywhere apparent. In several scenes spectators simply stand, taking up space like forgotten mannequins. Even the cadaverous fairies (a low-budget four) remain frozen to the spot. When a pale fairy hand or face appears from the rippling greenery of the backdrop, the effect provides a bit of much-needed mystery, but it's achieved at the expense of the balletic grace the production thoroughly lacks.

The male lovers, however, are a treat. John Hodgkinson's Theseus is a Gilbert and Sullivan sort of duke, making grand pronouncements that carry no sense of conviction. As Demetrius, Nicholas Burns is a very funny pinstriped young fogey, trying to be reasonable with the importunate Helena. Nick Fletcher's Lysander, unshaven, tie-less, and in suede shoes (probably an artist, or worse) is friendly and sensual, a cheerful bloke whose normality makes him the odd one out in this company.

Among the rude mechanicals, Peter Forbes' Bottom is more energetic than funny. The star comedian among them is, unusually, Peter Quince, in the person of John Conroy, who starts his show with a Noël Coward imitation (while the others are in present-day gear, the working men are dressed in Thirties style). Paddy Ward's Starveling is hilariously morose, his pessimistic expression speaking volumes about his opinion of the comedy.

The little play ends with a surprisingly companionable round dance involving the nobility and courtiers along with the players. It's a sweet, inclusive gesture, with a warmth that could have been used earlier in the show.

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