A Midsummer Night's Dream, Regent's Park, London

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The Independent Culture

Summer is here, and at Regent's Park it is time to roll out the Pimm's and the fairies. Any production of A Midsummer Night's Dream here is pretty much critic-proof - the trees shaking in the breeze, the birds and bats flitting about in the twilight do half the director's work for him or her. This is just as well, since the acoustics, occasionally inflected with aircraft noise, militate against nuanced interpretation and depth of character: different rules apply here.

Summer is here, and at Regent's Park it is time to roll out the Pimm's and the fairies. Any production of A Midsummer Night's Dream here is pretty much critic-proof - the trees shaking in the breeze, the birds and bats flitting about in the twilight do half the director's work for him or her. This is just as well, since the acoustics, occasionally inflected with aircraft noise, militate against nuanced interpretation and depth of character: different rules apply here.

But by any standards, Ian Talbot's new Dream is a pretty satisfactory affair - a touch short on mystery and enchantment, but compensating with skilful comedy and an overall air of good humour that is hard to resist. The tone is set at the beginning, with the entrance of Duke Theseus, dressed in late Victorian military splendour, to an Elgarian fanfare.

As played by Terence Wilton, this duke is a genial old buffer - hardly the sort of man you would expect to find conquering an Amazon queen, which may go some way to explaining Hippolyta's peculiarly frosty manner. He meets Egeus's complaints about Lysander's unauthorised wooing of Hermia with guffaws of laddish congratulation, and is clearly put out when Egeus reminds him of the dire penalties stipulated by law.

This sunny, staid imperial afternoon is sharply contrasted with the anarchic nocturnal realm of the fairies. The rank-and-file sprites, led by Mark Hilton's pudgy, balletic Puck, are punkish urchins - shaven-headed, soot-smeared, clad in cast-off petticoats and 18-hole Doc Martens, their highly sexed writhings sitting eerily with their childish voices and mannerisms. Their taller, slimmer king and queen come from other mythologies: Titania (Lauren Ward), with Irish accent and matching shawl, seems to be a Celtic fertility goddess; Oberon (Keith Dunphy) also has a brogue, but his hairstyle and clothes are distressingly reminiscent of Orlando Bloom's Legolas in The Lord of the Rings.

Perhaps that is meant as a sop to audiences unfamiliar with Shakespeare. The other concession to the mass media is the casting of Russ Abbott as Bottom; but this turns out to be a masterstroke. Purely from seeing him on television, you would never guess how at home he is on a stage - he has presence, a clear grasp of the language, and superb timing (particular his double-takes at his transformation into an ass); I'd like to see him try some other Shakespearean clowns. He gets uniformly excellent support from the other mechanicals, and their final performance of "Pyramus and Thisbe" is a hoot - Snug the joiner, as Lion, breaking out of character to hand round business cards to the assembled gentry.

Some minor irritations intrude - I didn't take to Kit Surrey's Teletubbyland set, or Catherine Jayes' music - but the only real longueur comes when the four young lovers get lost in the woods: Hermia is too bland, Lysander too loud to carry the tetchy romance. But Annette McLaughlin's gawky, man-hungry Helena, Eve Arden with a touch of Joyce Grenfell, makes up for a lot. Overall, not quite a dream, but a very pleasant way to spend a warm June evening.

In rep to 8 September (08700 601811)

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