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BWW Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, Southwark Playhouse, June 3 2016

"Are there any purists in tonight?"

So Puck addresses us some twenty minutes into Go People's A Midsummer Night's Dream (at Southwark Playhouse until 1 July) - but if there were, I guess we would have heard the harrumphing already, as this production doesn't really do purism. Instead we get seven actors playing all (well, most) of the 17 roles, an enormous amount of fun for everyone and, yes, somewhere, the grand old comedy of the lovers, the fairies and the mechanicals.

Ludovic Hughes gives us a strutting, nasty, alpha-male Oberon who has little love for his Titania (Eastenders' Maddy Hill in good form) but does want her in her place. That coldness only serves to accentuate the passion of the lovers and their missteps and confusions under the spell of Puck's potion. Lucy Eaton does exasperation well as Helena, in this production not bullied to the point of cruelty when ganged up on by the bewitched boys, something often taken too far for modern sensibilities. Suzie Preece has a look of Kate Moss as Hermia (doubling as a willing but dim Snug in the mechanicals) and doesn't actually fight Helena, which is probably a good thing, and gets her man in the end.

It's the boys who really get physical. Freddie Hutchins (who has feuded with Freddie Fox right from the role allocations framing device) really does use his anger as Lysander, but also as Thisbe in the anarchic play within a play, which has plenty of slapstick and a great finish. As Bottom, Fox channels a bit of American Werewolf in London in his transformation scene and a bit of The Elephant Man when talking to Titania, and generally has a whale of a time in a high-energy performance that somehow lasts the full 110 minutes without a break!

Just about holding it together and conscripting the audience when it suits, is Melanie Fullbrook's Puck, less malevolent than some Pucks. but engaging and wonderfully warm with a house who have to do their bit to make it all happen. Yep - somebody will play Hippolyta, so watch out any Amazonian women in the front row!

This is a production that aims to work on the imagination (from where, I suppose, dreams spring) and requires us to do some of the heavy lifting, but, outside the West End and subsidised theatre, we always do - and we wouldn't have it any other way. And if our conjuring up a tree to sit dead centre of the traverse stage (and getting a few laughs of its own) feels a little forced, then a trip to Athens (via Fairyland) for our mind's eye is well worth the effort.

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From This Author - Gary Naylor