Watermill Theatre, Newbury – until 16 June 2018
In a week when Shakespearean-inclined eyes are trained on the opening of Michelle Terry’s tenure at the Globe with a season that promises to be “gender blind, race blind and disability blind”, it is gratifying to see other theatres in the UK already delivering this. And unsurprisingly, this kind of approach is full of rich potential to shake up your Shakespeare anew, making the Watermill’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream an unalloyed pleasure.
Paul Hart’s production is full of innovative touches which work separately like a treat and also combine into something really special. It wears its actor musicianship lightly as music is used brilliantly to delineate the otherworldliness of the woods. ‘I Put A Spell On You’ might seem overly literal for the dosing of love-in-idleness but lyrically it proves a remarkable fit for the love/hate relationship of this Titania and Oberon, so too of Puck’s frustration at that latter father-figure.
Eva Feiler’s childlike interpretation of Puck is a powerful take – stripped of the typical swagger and constantly clutching a favourite doll, she brings a fascinatingly different complexion to this sprite. Victoria Blunt’s fiercely funny Bottom is an equally bracing breath of fresh air that reveals an effortless gift for comedy. And an inventive take on doubling sees Offue Okegbe take on Theseus and Snout, while Jamie Satterthwaite impresses as an impetuous Oberon and sniffy Starveling.
The quartet of lovers is very well done too. Lillie Flynn and Joey Hickman’s Helena and Demetrius are good but there’s a compelling emotion underscoring the connection between Sophie Stone’s Hermia and Tyrone Huntley’s Lysander. They sign to each other as often as speak and the BSL is integrated wonderfully, not least in the quick shift in the moment of pure shock as Hermia realises the shift in her beloved’s affection.
Katie Lias’ design has a faintly Edwardian music hall feel to it, lit imaginatively by Tom White, and Katherine Mills’ magic lends a neatly performative spin to proceedings. With a ballsy Hippolyta (Emma McDonald) and a Thisbe to make you cry (Hickman again), this is a characterful evening indeed. And as the strains of ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’ play us out (giving Olivier Award-winner Huntley’s voice a moment in the spotlight), one truly appreciates the world of Shakespeare in all its exhilarating imagination.