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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park


  Tamsin Carroll/ Photo: Johan Persson

As the nation basks in a warm, fuzzy, Jubilee- and Olympic-inspired patriotism, Matthew Dunster offers a rather different view of Britain in his production of the classic Shakespeare summer staple. The Open Air Theatre has clearly thought hard about how to compete with the plethora of Shakespeare on offer elsewhere in London this summer, and seemingly has opted to play safe with the tourist’s favourite Shakespeare play. Yet Dunster serves up a distinctly unconventional Dream, set against an uneasy backdrop of civil unrest via the kitschy bling of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.
David Birrell’s Theseus and Katie Brayben’s Hippolyta preside over a Dale Farm-style traveler camp about to be cleared in preparation for a new shopping centre (the traveler inhabitants of Dale Farm were earlier this year controversially evicted by Basildon council), while Oliver Johnstone’s Puck is a masked, hoodied youth straight out of last August’s riots, who ominously circles the caravans on a BMX. Moreover, the gypsy patriarchal code adds a violent undertone to the Dream’s gender politics: Theseus is not above giving Hippolyta a black eye, while the forced yoking of Hermia and Demetrius feels in keeping with the traveler culture of arranged marriages.
It’s a rough, masculine, misogynistic world, buffeted by the forces of officialdom – Peter Quince and his Mechanicals are amusingly decked out as council workers – and where dreams come in the shape of a shiny new retail park. And yet it’s also a world capable of magical transformation. In Jon Bausor’s set – another design coup for Regent’s Park –a caravan literally transforms into a sylvan paradise lush with bright flowers and ethereal nymphs.
Dunster’s cast has had to do battle with savagely unseasonable weather – press night was abandoned halfway through because of near biblical rain – but the cold and damp haven’t bitten their enthusiasm for strutting round in barely any clothes, particularly Rebecca Oldfield and Hayley Gallivan’s Helena and Hermia, who heroically sport cropped vests and high heels – and a strong Essex accent.
The deeper the play travels into the woods, however, the more Dunster’s concept begins to look rather random. Christopher Colquhoun looks like a punky Goth, strutting about in leather, while Tamsin Carroll’s Titania is a nubile earth mother with dreadlocks, attended to by a troupe of balletic young men. Perhaps the intention is to conjure up Britain’s various outsider communities and its more eccentric-minded cultures, at risk, Jerusalem-style, from jobs-worthy bureaucrats and corporate-minded town planners. But if so, Dunster doesn’t seem to know where to go with this. And at times he treads what appears like a dangerous class line with his sensationalist depiction of a punch-drunk gypsy culture mad for enormous taffeta dresses. During the bling-tastic wedding scene, the comedy verges on exploitative.
Yet this is a Dream that shakes preconceptions of Shakespeare’s fluffiest comedy and even manages to invigorate the play-within-a-play scene into something approaching funny by having the Mechanicals perform it on top of a caravan to a pumping Queen/Beethoven sound-clash. Not quite in the spirit of Jubilee year then, and certainly not what the tourists will be expecting.


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