9th Dec, 2016

A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Play for the Nation Review - RSC Stratford

Stratford Editorial 25th Feb, 2016 Updated: 28th Oct, 2016

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play for the Nation

RST, Stratford

IT’S been putting a broad smile on faces for over four centuries, and Shakespeare’s “love letter to amateur theatre” will no doubt continue to do so for many more to come.

To mark the 400th anniversary of the bard’s passing, the RSC decided to embark on an ambitious production pitting together a professional cast of actors, with a cast of 14 different Mechanicals, each drawn from amateur theatre companies the length and breadth of the country.

Adding to the potential recipe for disaster, the production also brings in youngsters from local schools – for Titania’s fairy train – as it tours around the country, before returning to Stratford in June when all 14 sets of Mechanicals will get a chance to perform on the RST stage.

Erica Whyman’s production can truly claim to be A Play for the Nation – and it’s a hugely enjoyable one at that.

Stratford’s own Bear Pit and Kidderminster’s The Nonentities share Mechanicals duty for the Stratford opening.

On stage for press night were The Nonentities, and the biggest compliment that can probably be paid, is that most, if not told beforehand, would probably not know they were amateurs.

Nonentities these Black Country Mechanicals certainly are not – Chris Clarke (Bottom), Sue Downing (Quince), Simon Hawkins (Snout), Patrick Bentley (Starveling), Alex Powell (Flute), Andrew Bingham (Snug), charmed the audience and made them cry with laughter. What more do you need from a Mechanical?

Of course, there are also some professionals who are not just along to make up the numbers. The quartet of young lovers – Mercy Ojelade (Hermia), Chris Nayak (Demetrius), Jack Holden (Lysander), and Laura Riseborough (Helena) – stride the stage with an Enid Blyton Famous Five-like purpose in the search for love.

Chu Omambala’s white suited Oberon and Ayesha Dharker’ delicious Titania are suitably regal, while Lucy Ellinson shines as sprightly top hatted sprite Puck.

If there is a downside, then the set is hardly magical. With its 1940s setting, it has the feel of imposed rationing.

But ultimately Shakespeare’s ever-popular crowd-pleaser triumphs – once again.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play for the Nation plays at the RST until March 5, returning in June after a UK tour.

Visit www.rsc.org.uk for tickets and further details.