There is nowhere nicer than the Regents Park Open Air Theatre to while away a Summer evening and ‘A Midsummer Nights Dream’ is the perfect show for this setting. Surprisingly enough, it’s seven years since the dream was performed at Regents Park and this production is visually stunning, with enough innovation to excite without departing from the text (apart from a few ad libs from Bottom). The natural canopy of tress that surrounds the stage whispers in the wind (no exaggeration) and actor’s aside, there is always a dramatic entrance from a bird coming home to roost. The seats are padded and as long as you bring a warm coat, it really would take an exceptionally bad mood not to be lifted by the magic of the Park at night.

What Director Dominic Hill and designer Rachael Canning have chosen to explore is the nightmarish quality of Shakespeare’s favourite comedy, bringing to life the visceral dangers of the dark woods with arachnid fairies and a haunting soundscape of wild beasts. The fairies emerge from the reeds, hunched over stilts and intruiguingly sign instead of speaking their names. Puppetry is used to great affect for Titania’s adopted ‘Indian boy,’ a tiny grey gremlin with a curious, impish quality. Puck, on the other hand, is more in the tradition of a Shakesperean ‘clown’ –played by Myra McFadyen as an elderly Scottish magician.

The sense that lives are at risk permeates a production that is as sinister as it is playful. The four young lovers from Athens are a feisty lot – Helena and Hermia played by Remy Beasley and Gabrielle Brooks, easily a physical match for their men, which allows the physical comedy to be pushed to its limits with arguments turning into full blown fights. If you’re wondering why they hauled a mattress to the forest, it soon becomes clear. Titania (and Hippolyta) are played by Amber James with brooding authority and her wonder at the beauty of Susan Wokoma’s bouncing Bottom is a delightful transformation.

A huge circular moon shines over the dark reed beds of the forest, and as the lights change and the night unfolds, there is much to laugh about too. The famously funny scenes where the mechanicals rehearse their play has plenty of charm with an original touch of bawdy genius I won’t spoil in advance.
One of the great joys of press night was hearing a child in the audience giggling uncontrollably at Thisbe’s piping voice – a reminder that there’s nothing quite like seeing these great plays for the first time…