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  • Miles Hedley

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at Severndroog Castle

If you like your Shakespeare accessible, it’s hard to beat A Midsummer Night’s Dream with its lovers, fairies, music, wonderfully ridiculous plot and – often overlooked – the darkness at its heart. And it becomes wholly unbeatable when it’s staged in the impossibly romantic woods around Severndroog Castle by a company with such an unerring sense of drama and fun as Changeling Theatre.

What’s more, their first performance was blessed with a balmy evening which allowed the culture-starved audience to bask in the warmth of the air and the joy of returning to live performance. And what a performance it was.

Director Rob Forknall opted to ramp up the comedy yet never lost sight of the fact that all the female characters were ultimately pawns in the political games of patriarchal power – a dark truth that sadly still resonates today.

In a brilliant opening, the exuberant cast danced on to the stage while the lonely, silent and largely ignored figure of reluctant bride Hippolyta (Mara Allen) slipped between them to await the dreaded pleasure of her royal groom Theseus (Matthew Rutherford). In a neat touch, Allen and Rutherford doubled up as fairy rulers Titania and Oberon (above) whose feuding mirrors the humans’ misery.

Both actors were magnificent as they swung manically between dignity and childishness, spite and desire. I especially liked the gender inversion which saw Oberon, not Titania, fall for donkey-eared Bottom. The lovestruck king even serenaded him on a trombone.

But the real comedy of the play is encapsulated by the so-called rude mechanicals – Bottom the weaver (Jake Richards) and his band of hopeless part-time thespians.

No one in the Severndroog woods had more fun that night than Richards who gave a masterclass in .

Annabelle Blake, Imogen Halsey, Enzo Benvenuti and Joseph Lukehurst lost themselves (and quite a lot of their clothes) in the parts of fate-ravaged lovers Hermia, Helena, Demetrius and Lysander. They also tripled up as fairies and mechanicals as well as singing, playing instruments and pulling off some eye-watering fights and pratfalls. Talk about multi-talented!

Changeling apprentice Jasmine Hill was terrific as a stammering lion, a fairy and a flautist.

And Elijah Ferreira was simply spellbinding as restless mischief-maker Puck, bringing a real sense of otherworldliness to the role.

As if the setting and acting weren’t enough, the production was enhanced still further by the wonderful costumes of Ciéranne Kennedy-Bell and Lydia Barton Lovett’s atmospheric soundtrack.

My only quibble was that I thought the fairies should have been more supernatural, less hysterical. The best version of the Dream I ever saw was on a magical Midsummer Night at the open-air theatre in Regent’s Park about 20 years ago. With a bit more enchantment, Changeling’s production, which returns to Severndroog on 10 August, might just have pipped it.


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