Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Cambridge Shakespeare Festival
An idyllic evening lounging in the beautiful surroundings of one of the college gardens, sipping wine and tucking into a picnic should be enough for a great night out.
But the reason why the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival, which runs eight shows at different college locations throughout the summer, has become such an institution in the city lies in the quality of the actors’ performances.
Last night’s performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, staged at St John’s College, was hugely enjoyable. Played with skill, humour and great clarity, it led the audience by the hand through the tale of lovers lost in the woods and their encounters with the king and queen of the fairies.
For those who have never seen the play or studied it at school, it’s about Hermia, whose father Egeus wants her to marry Demetrius but Hermia refuses, because she's in love with Lysander. If she doesn’t follow her father’s wishes, she must face a death penalty or become a nun.
Hermia and Lysander decide to elope that night. They confide in their friend Helena. However, she's secretly in love with Demetrius so, hoping to win his affection, she tells him of Hermia's plan. That night, all four lovers set out into the forest. There they are tricked by Puck, the sprite, into falling in love with the wrong people. And into this mix are thrown a bunch of - rather terrible - players called the Mechanicals, who are rehearsing The Tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe in the same forest to perform at the wedding of Theseus, Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.
All the actors, except Matthew Gee - who plays Nick Bottom very amusingly as the hammy lead actor in the Mechanicals - take on two roles. The four lovers were also fairies in Queen Titania’s court. All were excellent and the break into modern song (Dream a Little Dream of Me and Moon River) from George Eddy, who played Lysander, on guitar and Emily McCormick (Hermia), who sang, was unexpected and touching.
Jasper Dweck managed heroically as Oberon/Theseus with a broken foot and crutches and still managed to make his king of the fairies both threatening and charming.
And Helena Fenton, otherworldly as Puck, left the audience in fits of laughter as she cheekily rifled through hampers and swigged at an audience member’s bottle of wine.
I can’t mention everyone here, but there wasn’t a weak link in the cast. The production felt all the more magical for the setting under the branches of a large tree and surrounded by the leafy college garden. It looked very much the midsummer forest it was meant to be.
For anyone wondering whether to take children along, my ten year old enjoyed the play thoroughly and had no trouble understanding the action because it was performed so well.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, at St John’s College, runs until July 27.
Tickets £17 adults, concessions £13. Box office: cambridgeshakespeare.com.
A special charity performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be held on Saturday 27 July at 2.00pm. Tickets for these performances are only available on the door and payment is by cash only.