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A Midsummer Night’s Dream review at Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh – ‘sheer magic’

George Humphreys and Eleanor Dennis in A Midsummer Night's Dream at Snape Maltings. Photo: Hugo Glendinning George Humphreys and Eleanor Dennis in A Midsummer Night's Dream at Snape Maltings. Photo: Hugo Glendinning
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As a theatre Snape Maltings is technically limited, so it was a brilliant idea on the part of the Aldeburgh Festival to invite as director-designer for Britten’s Shakespearean opera someone who uses unconventional means to create exceptional visuals.

Netia Jones’ set is little more than a screen at the back of the stage. What gives this show extraordinary visual appeal are her projections, which conjure up the nocturnal Athenian wood in richly atmospheric detail.

Her use of mysterious shadows and silhouetted semblances, as well as a subtle alternation of black and white with colour, helps her differentiate between the disparate groups who interact therein. Add to this a directorial approach that hits exactly the right balance between lightness and seriousness that the piece requires to succeed, and the result is nigh-on flawless.

Three of the central roles would be hard to better. Combining the unearthly beauty of his countertenor with a subtly intimidating manner, Iestyn Davies makes a haunting Oberon, his immaculate control perfectly matched by the translucent soprano and physical grace of Sophie Bevan’s Tytania. As Bottom, Matthew Rose’s grandly sonorous bass fleshes out a portrayal whose gentle humour sacrifices neither humanity nor pathos: indeed it is a mark of Jones’ sure touch that overtly comic scenes never lapse into slapstick.

Between the four lovers, too, tension is balanced with lyricism, sadness with wit. The chorus of fairies is both ethereal and business-like and Jack Lansbury’s acrobatic Puck an absolute tour-de-force.

In the pit conductor Ryan Wigglesworth leads the Aldeburgh Festival Orchestra in an account whose infallible pacing never detracts from the score’s sheeny sensuousness, making sure that what we hear is just as enchanting as what we see.

 

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Verdict
Sheer magic as Iestyn Davies stars in Britten’s opera at the Suffolk festival he founded
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