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A delightful and unifying experience from director Jenny Caron Hall


BWW Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, SHAKE Festival Online With spring quickly approaching and lockdown measures slowly easing, there probably isn't a better piece of theatre to accompany the warmer weather and cheerier moods than A Midsummer Night's Dream. Jenny Caron Hall brought a captivating reading filled to the brim with stars to our screens last night as part of her SHAKE Festival, which last year saw Geraldine James starring in The Tempest.

This latest Dream featured the likes of Rebecca Hall (daughter of the late Peter Hall and half sister to Caron Hall), Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey, many still remember his tragic demise as the worst Christmas present of 2012), and Luisa Omielan (What Would Beyoncé Do? and Politics for Bitches).

The reading was done over Zoom with both cast and audience scattered around the world, a delightful and unifying experience for all in spite of the digital limitations. Through simple changes in lights and background, Caron Hall transported us through Athens and a magical forest as Theseus and Hippolyta celebrate their marriage, four lovers argue, a company of actors prepare, and the fairies manipulate them all, causing general mischief.

Stevens makes for a mellow Theseus and a menacing but alluring Oberon, while Hall is commanding as Titania and Hippolyta both, inspiring reverence even through a screen. The director changes the internal dynamic of one of the couples by gender-swapping Helena: Daniel Bowerbank steals the show as the young man who pines for Demetrius, played by Louis Rudnicki. Barnaby Taylor is equally mesmerising as Lysander, beloved of the diminutive Hermia (Máiréad Tyers).

The only debatable choice relates to the band of players due to perform at Theseus's wedding. All but Peter Quince (played by Robert Hands) have questionable accents that seem to meander across various areas of the European mainland. Whether this is to imply the international nature of the "rude mechanicals" or simply to make them more comical, it's an unnecessary (and rather cheap) addition. Nevertheless, the actors deliver on the humour.

The circumstances and lack of the visual distractions that might exist in a staged production force the viewer to concentrate on the beauty of Shakespeare's text. While in past years London has seen quite a few extravagant takes on A Midsummer Night's Dream, it was refreshing to find a more frugal focus on the Bard's words. It would be interesting to see how Caron Hall translates this reading to a stage which in time, perhaps, she may well do.

Check out our guest blog by Jenny Caron Hall

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From This Author Cindy Marcolina