Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Where better to watch fairies, lovers and rude mechanicals caper in the woods than surrounded by the trees of London’s beautiful squares and gardens? This year’s Shakespeare in the Squares production is A Midsummer Night’s Dream – and it is glorious.
With a cast of eight and a 1920s setting, there is a travelling circus vibe to the show, with musical hall songs and familiar favourites scattered throughout the play – when you’ve got voices as good as this in your cast, you’ve got to let them sing.
James Tobin’s Puck, dressed like Bowie does Panto, is brilliantly camp and playfully vicious – much to the delight of the children in the audience, who he interacted with whenever possible. Under Tatty Hennessy’s expert direction, there are lots of little touches as well as the over the top physical comedy. As the four young lovers argue and fight under the influence of Puck’s misplaced magic, Puck and Oberon munch on popcorn as if they are watching Netflix.
Gemma Barnett and Hannah Sinclair Robinson give Hermia and Helena a fantastic steeliness under all the mooning about after their men, and really let loose in their big confrontation. With such strong women, David Leopold and Riad Richie make the most of playing Lysander and Demetrius for laughs – highlighting their fickleness and idiocy to great effect. Under Tarit Dor’s movement direction, the two create some fantastic physical comedy as they fight for Helena’s love. Sioned Jones and Paul Giddings, looking like a fortune teller and a ringmaster, are a hoot as Titania and Oberon, but Jodie Jacobs steals the show as Bottom – channelling Matt Berry with her declaiming voice and keeping the audience in fits of laughter.
As the natural light fades, the trees are lit with purple as the birdsong builds as they fly home to roost. There may be the occasional siren, but it’s easy to ignore when you’re watching something this entertaining. The performance of Pyramus and Thisbe, so often painfully unfunny as companies try too hard, is laugh out loud hilarious. The rude mechanicals are wonderful characterisations, and the look on the children’s face as Snug found her roar was a joy to see.
The tour continues until 11 July – grab a ticket while you can for this magical madcap mayhem.
St James’s Square SW1 – 27 June
Paddington Street Gardens W1 – 28 June – matinee and evening shows
Little Wormwood Scrubs W10 – 29 June
Ladbroke Square Garden W11 – 30 June
Cornwall Gardens SW7 – 2 July
Connaught Square W2 – 3 July
Elgin & Arundel Gardens W11 – 4 July
Bedford Square WC1 – 5 July
St. Peter’s Square W6 – 6 July
The garden at Le Gothique, Royal Victoria Patriotic Building, Wandsworth SW18 – 7 July – matinee and evening shows
Formosa Garden W9 – 10 July
Cleveland Square W2 – 11 July