Tim Baker doesn't put a foot wrong in this, his first Shakespeare production. There are no gimmicks and he has clarified the text and keeps the action moving. An arch at the back of the stage has five entrances, which facilitates the arrivals and comic chasing-about. It might be midsummer, but the leaves are falling fast. Oberon's quarrel with Titania has indeed caused climate change: "And thorough this distemperature we see/ The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts/ Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose."
The young lovers are at various times buried in leaves. Titania and Bottom disappear under them, as does Puck; their dramatic reappearances save a lot of movement on and off stage. When all the complications are over, the mechanicals – the comic troupe – appear to clear away the leaves, and all the characters lie asleep. It has, indeed, all been a dream, sustained throughout by soft music, played by the actors on viols and guitars.
The production is set in no particular era, but the costumes are telling. Hermia and Helena wear cocktail dresses from the 1950s, a time when pre-marital sex was not common. The fairies and humans are equally athletic and expressive in movement and gesture, the hectic physical activity culminating in everyone joining in the Bergomask, the celebratory rustic dance. The humans, in other ways, do not always look or act according to tradition: Demetrius is middle-aged and balding, while Egeus is unusually young. The mechanicals are nicely differentiated, too: Starveling the tailor pursues Bottom with a tape measure to prepare his costume. During the mechanicals' play, he prances about with an unruly balloon as Moonshine.
Although this is essentially an ensemble production, Bradley Freegard deserves special mention for his Theseus and Oberon, since his bearing and his verse-speaking give him absolute authority. Phylip Harries makes a human, loveable and very Welsh Bottom, while Louise Collins and Eleanor Howell as Hermia and Helena display convincing venom in their quarrelling. This is Howell's debut at Mold, and to judge from her stage presence and clarity of speech, it looks like a new star has been born into this galaxy of actors. This wonderfully fresh production justifiably raised a full house to a standing ovation.
To Sat (08453 303 565); then New Theatre, Cardiff (029 2087 8889) 4 to 8 Mar
Richard Camp, Retired teacher, Sennybridge, Powys
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