The Cambridge Shakespeare Festival takes place every year and fills the famous university gardens with a selection of Shakespeare's classics. This year, Girton College hosts A Midsummer Night's Dream.
The play's main scenes take place in an Athenian forest ruled by Oberon, the fairy king and his queen, Titania. However, the story is not as light as its setting might suggest. There is jealousy between the fairy rulers and the opening of the play sees Hermia (Philippa McGrath) forced to make a choice between her love, a life of chastity and death. Once in the forest, though, the mischievous sprites and fairies wreak havoc with the pairs of human lovers and a hapless band of "rude mechanicals".
The setting of the play, on the lawns of Girton's quad, with its towering trees used as proscenium arch, is entirely apt. Emerging from a shelter within the trees, the cast of nine actors work incredibly hard, doubling parts and providing enough music and dance to amply fill the imposing space. With simple costumes, only homemade instruments as props and no scenery there was nowhere for any performer or audience to hide, should the weather have turned.
In the guise of Bottom's players, the cast really shine, creating a band of hapless but proud craftsmen toiling away on Pyramus and Thisbe. James Hayward's shy Flute is a million miles from his ultimately passionate and loving Demetrius. The biggest laughs came from Bottom himself, and Sharon Andrew does not hold back in exploiting his pride in his performance or the extraordinary comic potential of his equine transformation. Teaming up with a wonderfully regal Titania, the pair have the audience howling with laughter.
Despite Puck's sprinting and rhyming, and the thundering of the lovers across the audience, the play does achieve a touching and harmonious conclusion. The lovers, despite all the silliness, show the audience a depth and reality to their romance, helped by the beauty of the setting and the fading light.
If there is a weak link here it is Raymond Coker's Oberon who seems laboured and stagy. As Emma Fenney, a marvellous Irish Puck, entreats the audience to clap themselves awake from the dream, there is never a chance that anyone will refuse. Walking away from a memorable production, everyone seemed grateful for the dream they have had and to the weather for adding so much to a perfect evening.
To 2 Aug (01223 357851; www.cambridgeshakespeare.com)
Rob Lench, teacher, Market HarboroughReuse content