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A Midsummer Night’s Dream review at Arundel and Ladbroke Gardens – ‘breezy open-air Shakespeare’

The cast of Shakespeare in Squares' A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo: James Millar
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Now in its fourth year, outdoor touring company Shakespeare in the Squares is taking a breezy, easy-going Dream on a circuit of London’s green spaces.

Returning director Tatty Hennessy gives Shakespeare’s “weak and idle” play the lightest of treatments in a production that leans heavily into the comedy, throwing in loads of nonverbal humour and eloquent mugging. Some tiny tweaks to the text find new jokes in pleasingly unexpected places.

If the spirited but uneven cast occasionally struggles to command the open-air venue, with the odd blurt of verse lost on the breeze, the tone is nevertheless warm and welcoming. Children are gently encouraged to laugh along. A simple magic trick is dextrously repeated until it becomes impressive, and a handful of music hall numbers are trotted out to keep the energy up.

Jodie Jacobs makes a brassy, raconteurish Bottom, dominating the show with finely judged comic overacting. Beside her, James Tobin channels Julian Clary as a hedonistic, playful Puck glammed up in metallic eyeshadow, while Hannah Sinclair Robinson makes an intense, irrepressible Helena.

Designer Emily Stuart opts for a vague 1920s aesthetic, all tans, tweeds, and printed silk robes, adding to an impression of watching the light entertainment at an interwar garden party. Bunting hangs between the trees, and beyond that the show relies only on a few instruments, some travelling trunks, and a piano painted in ice cream parlour colours. It isn’t insightful or nuanced, but it makes for a pleasant break from reality.

Director Tatty Hennessy: ‘We’re bringing Shakespeare right into the heart of communities’

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Verdict
Accessible if undemanding open-air performance brings Shakespeare to under-explored parks and public spaces
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