A Midsummer Night’s Dream review at Hampton Court Palace
Shakespeare himself was among the cast for the first recorded production of the Dream, staged in the Great Hall at Hampton Court Palace on New Year’s Day 1604. Four hundred years later this makes a neat tie-in for these weekend promenade performances by Bard Unbound, played under a blazing afternoon sun – or in the Great Hall if it rains.
We start in the Tudor Kitchens, where the Rude Mechanicals pick up a passing crowd (eventually resolving itself into a 50-strong hard-core, plus fellow travellers), ending three hours later with courtly revels on the Orangery lawn. But in between both actors and watchers must be pretty nimble as they move from space to space, following the action along flagged corridors, gravel paths and into grassy enclaves.
The delicious surprise is that, despite all this dashing about, the performances are uniformly excellent, touched with neatly developed business, the text powerfully projected – notably by Gergo Danka, who doubles as Theseus and a virile Puck, and whose ringing voice tests the fine acoustic in the Clock Court.
Director-producers Lara Muth and Jessica Brewster also score with delightful costumes, specially created by gifted designer Julie Bowles, among them a gorgeous Pre-Raphaelite gown in Hellenic white and blue, worn with enchanting grace by Laura Martin-Simpson as Helena.
Gwynne McElveen’s Titania, richly clad in oriental finery, is also a figure of beauty to match the immaculate gardens. But the star of the show is John Paton’s Bottom, driving the comedy forward with passion and unbounded energy.
Hampton Court Palace, July 31-August 29
- William Shakespeare
- Lara Muth and Jessica Brewster
- Bard Unbound, Historic Royal Palaces
- Cast includes
- Gergo Danka, Gwynne McElveen, Laura Martin-Simpson, John Paton
- Running time
- 3hrs 5mins