A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A dreamy summer evening treat at Tolethorpe until July 29

A Midsummer Night's Dream
A Midsummer Night's Dream

Not sure what to do on the longest days and shortest nights of the year? Then why not celebrate the summer solstice by attending an open-air performance by the Stamford Shakespeare Company at nearby Tolethorpe Hall?

With actors playing in a real forest glade, and a tree-lined lawn ideal for pre-show picnicking, the Elizabethan manor house provides a perfect setting for traditional performances of Shakespeare plays. Not to mention the serviceable auditorium sheltered under a vast marquee.

And what play is more appropriate at this time of year than A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Ostensibly set in pre-Christian Athens this glorious romp actually provides a clue as to what people really got up to in the rural England of 500 years ago. A powerful court, four star-crossed lovers, and a group of zany actors provide the human interest. But it’s the fairy king and queen and their company of spirits who really rule the roost.

The most important of these is Puck who faithfully carries out King Oberon’s commands, usually with disastrous results for the humans. In this production Lucas Omar excelled as the lighter-than-air, gravity-defying spirit, even though his voice was clearly suffering from protracted use.

He brought a physicality to his part which was also the main feature of the antics of Hermia, Helena, Lysander, and Demetrius. Played respectively by Lucy Thornton-Reid, Abigail Mahony, Tom Johnson, and Sandy Thompson, this was a well-cast, well-matched quartet of young actors. They’d clearly put in vast amounts of time together practising the cleverly choreographed moves directed by David and Kay Roberts.

There is always a danger in performances of ‘The Dream’ that the actor playing Bottom will go completely over-the-top with the feisty material which Shakespeare gives him. Fortunately, James Rushton stopped just short of these excesses and gave a consistently conceived interpretation of the crazy weaver.

He was helped by a magnificently constructed ass’s head, following his translation by Puck. In fact one of the most enduring images in this colourful and decorative production was his long profile, complete with moving jaw and ears. It was especially effective in the scene where Titania the Fairy Queen first sees and falls for him.

Wearing a silvery-turquoise dress shaped like an upturned tulip Natasha Rose made a stunning impression in the role with her well-projected and beautifully spoken lines. Among her many helpers Stella Radic stood out as a nimble First Fairy. Stella also led the fairies in singing ‘Philomel with Melody’ based on the opening of Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite. A surprise choice of music which worked extremely well.

Review: Joe Conway