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Comedy by Shakespeare. Directed by Rachel Kavanaugh.

Midnight mischief and summer magic - the Open Air Theatre's all time favourite!
This is the return of the 1997 production.

Rachel Kavanaugh directs a predominantly new cast with Oberon and Titania played by Daniel Flynn and Nicola Duffett (known best for her role as Debbie in Eastenders). Helen Grace (Chrissie in BBC TV's Roger Roger and Georgia Simpson in Brookside) plays Helena and Rebecca Johnson (recently in The Front Page at the Donmar Warehouse and played the title role of Lady Windermere's Fan in the West End) plays Hermia. Demetrius is played by Timothy Watson (who appeared at the Orange Tree in Family Circles and on TV in Peak Practice and Soldier, Soldier) and Damien Matthews (whose recent work includes the title role in David Copperfield at Greenwich Theatre and the TV series Chalk) plays Lysander. Christopher Godwin joins the company to play Starveling and Robert Hands (who played Robert in Scott Hicks' award-winning film Shine) plays Puck. Those returning to the production include Debby Bishop as Hippolyta, John Griffiths as Quince and Ian Talbot as Bottom. The set and costume designer is David Knapman. The 1997 cast included Rob Edwards as Oberon, Michael Elwyn as Theseus, Serena Evans as Titania and Ian Talbot as Bottom.

OPEN AIR Theatre, Inner Circle, Regent's Park, London, NW1 4NP
Opened 27 May 1997, Closed 6 September 1997
Previewed 22 May, Opened 26 May 1998, Closed 5 September 1998

Extracts from the reviews from the 1997 season:

"The traditional opening production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at Regent's Park is as light, bright and fluffy as ever, but has been given an unusually sharp focus this year by Rachel Kavanaugh. Don't be alarmed. There are still familiar faces and familiar bits of comic business on stage. The same chill winds reassure us that, though the Open Air Theatre is once again open, summer has once again failed to arrive on time. The emphasis is still on high knockabout and low brows. But within the physical and stylistic limitations of the venue, Kavanaugh brings a modicum of sophistication and fresh fun to a tired ritual. She stages the play in Victorian garb, as if it were an impromptu entertainment devised by garden-party guests with an ear for the dramatic and a nose for the absurd. The tone is set by Rob Edwards's abnormally potent fairy king, Oberon. Edwards revels in Oberon's egomaniac swagger, but also subtly undercuts stage conceits and the play's supernatural backbone. In his relish of the sexual torments he will inflict on Serena Evans's rather arthritic Titania, having drugged her to the eyeballs, he drags the audience towards the dark underbelly of Shakespeare's play, which is almost unheard of in Regent's Park. For once, too, the human lovers mixed and matched by the fairies seem more than mannequins. The lanky Chook Sibtain and the mellow-voiced Michael Higgs contrast nicely as Lysander and Demetrius, and both wring deft new humour out of old lines. The coarseness of Claire Carrie's performance as Hermia seems largely to have been dictated by a bustle that makes her look like the back end of a pantomime horse, but she has a worthy foil in Issy van Randwyck's Helena, who prances as pertly as a dressage pony. The engine of their misfortune, John Padden's Puck, is a beautiful boy of indeterminate but writhingly malicious sexuality. For the first time in many years, Open Air supremo Ian Talbot also gives us his Bottom. And what a sweet Bottom it proves - a gentle, jumped-up nonentity instead of the usual brash ham. The slapstick comedy of this pitiful clown and his cohorts is tiresomely overplayed - after all, this is Regent's Park, where aesthetic concerns are an adjunct to the dubious pleasures of al fresco entertainment - but Kavanaugh even reaps new comic rewards here. Although still lazy and loud enough to satisfy traditionalists, this Dream is the finest and funniest to hit this theatre in many a year." Nick Curtis, London Evening Standard.

"Give me a penny for every Dream I have seen in the Park and I can buy you a flagon of mulled wine in the interval. And with a penny for every Dream that was dreary I could throw in a barrel of burgers from the barbecue, or a stockpile of strawberries from the dessert counter. The Dream In the Open Air Theatre is the theatrical equivalent of the Trooping The Colour or the second Test match at Lord's. Its resonance and beauty are prescribed in the expectation. A production that manages then to make creative hay, as debutante director Rachel Kavanaugh's undoubtedly does, is a double delight. David Knapman's design is poised between Victorian primness and Edwardian loucheness. Claire Carrie's Hermia is a feisty foil to Issy Van Randwych's delectable Helena, a skittering diseuse in peach-coloured garb, reduced to stays and bloomers in the magic forest. Their beaux, Chook Sibtain's bendy Lysander and Michael Higgs's straight-backed Demetrius, are fast and furious. Titania's demonic fairies are robust sprites, John Padden a Pan-like fizzing Puck. Rob Edwards and Serena Evans as Oberon and Titania will be fine when they stop acting in their great speeches. The mechanicals, led by Ian Talbot's perky, energetic Bottom - his ass's head is a brilliantly curious extension of his own physiognomy - are unavoidably funny. All mysteries coalesce as the tall trees sway and tiny illuminations pierce the dark night. Verdict: Fresh, funny frolics in an idyllic natural setting." Michael Coveney, Daily Mail

"Say what you like about the theatre in Regent's Park (that it's there to justify regretted hamper purchases, perhaps, or that it's a drop-in health farm for people who want to shiver off a few calories) it does have one highly floggable asset: namely, the sky. As dusk turns to night and the stage-lighting starts pulling in the midges, the mutable relation between spectators and actors is given palpable, minute-by-minute emphasis. A Midsummer Night's Dream seems custom-built for this space, operating as it does in a sort of dramatic twilight, by turns craving derision and sympathy for men and women who, in their own different ways, make complete asses of themselves. If Rachel Kavanaugh's debut New Shakespeare mainstage production has a fault, it is that it doesn't always strike this balance. The tone established in the opening scene - when the Athenian mechanicals pop up from behind David Knapman's ivy-clad ruined chapel set to politely clap their new queen Hippolyta - is one of self-conscious theatricality. The costumes - the court's Victorian Sunday-best versus fairyland's rock-opera purple leggings and tutus - look more like bargains from a fancy dress shop than bold period conceit. Delivered in a cream-coloured summer suit, Theseus's threat to have Hermia put to death if she doesn't marry Demetrius - the patriarchal rod that hangs heavy over the play - sounds faintly ridiculous. It's hardly surprising that the two young women, who bear the emotional brunt of the flower-crazed affections in the forest, seem to take things so lightly. Issy van Randwyck's Helena scrunches her face into affected expressions of wounded pride before skipping off without a care in the world; Claire Carrie's Hermia is an indignant petite just waiting to be bundled around the stage like a naughty spaniel. Helena's potentially moving outburst against Hermia for rending the "double cherry" of their childhood friendship is here played as sick-making sorority, at which we are invited to groan. But it would be churlish to find too much fault in a staging that goes in such exuberant pursuit of comedy - and sexual chemistry. Having sat through productions that made me question whether Dream wasn't written just to prove that the English can never let their hair down, even at their midsummer maddest, it's refreshing to see such abandonment to the god of gag. In lan Talbot and John Padden, Kavanaugh has got pretty much the best for both worlds: Talbot's Bottom is a lovingly detailed Northern show-off, attention-stealing without up-staging his wonderfully oddball fellow labourers; Padden's Puck is a lean, agile mischief-maker, jaw permanently set in a manic grin. Whereas Puck tries to mount everything in sight, Bottom, transformed by a Disney-cute mask, swivels his hips like a middle-aged bank manager impressing the ladies at an office party. Repeat echoes and more use of purple than a Silk Cut ad cannot, let's be honest, summon up an atmosphere of supernatural hocus-pocus. Playing Oberon as a swarthy malevolent adds little either - the fairy king's tears on realising that his abuse of Titania has gone too far seem as forced as those Bottom's Pyramus achieves by applying raw onions to his eyes. But this Dream does enchant. Whether that's finally to do with the subconscious effect of rustling leaves and unexpected breezes or the performances, who can say for sure. That's why it's on here, after all." Dominic Cavendish, The Independent

"A dash of moonlit magic - Foolishly forgetting to remind myself that performances at the Open Air take place in the open air, I arrived lightly jacketed as for a summer afternoon. I won't make the mistake again, but only the occasional shiver shook my shoulders because the quality of Rachel Kavanaugh's production is so completely absorbing: ingenious, well-spoken, handsomely costumed and emphatically funny. At the back of David Knapman's set stands a handsome ecclesiastical ruin, with laburnum dangling over the window arches. It is probably a folly in the grounds of the Duke's palace because cushions and a peacock-backed garden chair are placed near by. But the ivy-hung walls make an equally fitting background for the forest scenes, where both fairies and artisans can come clambering through the windows, and Oberon and Puck perch on top to watch their plots ravelling to the happy end. Costumes are Edwardian, and in the opening scene, where the mood presented is that of a garden party, Kavanaugh offers us a glimpse of the wider community by bringing on the artisans as extra staff. Strictly speaking, the palace would not be likely to engage tinkers and joiners to carry its chairs but the device invites us gracefully into the spirit of the play, where classes mingle but differences are respected. Before any words are spoken we see the artisans gaze in awe at Debby Bishop's Hippolyta, an exotic beauty treading the same earth as themselves. Claire Carrie gives us a spunky little Hermia, who also sounds as though she knows about the classical images she invokes. Initially I was less convinced by Issy van Randwyck's Helena, whose hat (worn throughout the play) seems to be decorated with fluttering wood shavings. From the start she whimpers extravagantly, and from such an extremity where can she go? We have to wait till the confusions scene, much later in the play, for her to find somewhere. The production conceives the fairies as sexually uninhibited creatures, the erotic force that underlies mortal activity, though I notice that this conceit carries us into the world of the streetwalker. The attendants of Titania (Serena Evans), dressed in a wealth of shiny frocks and stockings, are the sort of women of the town eyed by young Edwardian blades in the gallery of the old Alhambra. Yet here again Kavanaugh's sense of a many-layered but integral community is conveyed.
John Padden's excellently louche Puck, grinning and angular, might have been picked up by Rob Edwards's Oberon in a Piraeus bar. But this persona, part kept boy, part playful meddler, is a fine base for his role as go-between, where the complicated movements required to entice the lovers across the stage could be used to illustrate a sprite's Kama Sutra. The "Pyramus and Thisbe" routine finally goes a bit over the top but this is no matter. Its players make an attractive, simply distinguished team of workmen, led by Ian Talbot's jolly Bottom, whose expression of relief on discovering that he no longers wears ass's ears is a moment to behold. But the production as a whole is one to cherish." Jeremy Kingston, The Times

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