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A Midsummer Night’s Dream review at Open Air Theatre, London – ‘bewitching and beguiling’

Michael Elcock, Gabrielle Brooks, Pierro Niel Mee and Remy Beasley in A Midsummer Night's Dream at Open Air Theatre, London. Photo: Jane Hobson

Employing almost the exact opposite approach to Sean Holmes’ fluorescent festival staging at Shakespeare’s Globe, Dominic Hill’s production is a delectably dark and gothic-tinged take on Shakespeare’s comedy.

Hill brings out the disturbing and uncanny elements of the play, delivering a feverish vision that takes place in deep, dark woods reminiscent of a Grimm Brothers’ fairytale.

It opens with a sleek, monochrome shindig dominated by the boorish and bullying Theseus (Kieran Hill). A long table is adorned with bottles of Grey Goose vodka and the overriding vibe would be just as suited to the opening scene of a Shakespearean tragedy.

This ‘anti-party’ theme is one of Hill’s many masterstrokes, bringing out as it does the genuine unpleasantness that underpins the original order for Hermia to leave Lysander and marry Demetrius instead.

The cast are uniformly excellent with standout performances from Amber James as the mournful and maternal Titania, Susan Wokoma as a playful and understatedly funny Bottom, and Myra McFadyen as a sad clown version of Puck.

The costumes and sets by Rachael Canning are equally strong. Inspired by Henry Fuseli’s supernatural painting The Nightmare, the woodland locale is populated by stilt-walking fairies who look like they’ve emerged from a reed bed. It’s also gorgeously lit by Ben Ormerod who adds a note of beauty to the sinister setting.

This a far darker Dream than usual and that’s all to the good. By switching dreams for nightmares, Hill creates a bewitching spectacle.

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Verdict
Dominic Hill brings a dash of darkness to his beguiling production of Shakespeare’s comedy
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