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Phoebe Hyder via Twitter

“Lovers and madmen”: A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Cambridge Shakespeare Festival

20 July 2018 | Emily May

Here at Culture Calling, we can’t think of any better way to spend a midsummer’s evening than relaxing in a park to watch some great theatre. That’s why we were delighted when we discovered the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival. Running annually, the festival is celebrating its 31 year, with many recurring and familiar faces in the cast. CSF stages the Bard’s celebrated repertoire in charming green spaces belonging to the university’s beautiful colleges, an audiences – some of whom are dedicated regulars - come along well prepared with picnics in tow to enjoy amidst the flora, and are able to partake in a glass of mulled wine from the nearby stand. It’s all very civilised.

Image Credit: A Cambridge Diary via Instagram

Whilst any Shakespeare play would be delightful in this environment (our friends at London Calling have recently enjoyed performances of The Tempest and As You Like it in outdoor locations around London), we decided to check out CSF’s rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as the play’s setting in a fairy infested forest seemed to perfectly suit the secluded and blossoming King’s College Gardens. And the company use their location to great effect. Setting themselves up around a lavender lined pergola, the cast run back and forth frantically across the grass conveying the sense of frenetic confusion of the play. Puck climbs up into the wooden structure and hides amidst the leaves and blossoms as he watches his mischievous meddling unfold, and the pergola also makes a perfect setting for Titiania’s flowery bed. There’s also a beautiful moment where the play makes use of the depth of the park, and the audience can observe Oberon in the distance executing a slow and powerful walk towards the action of the play, to sort out his “merry wanderer of the night’s” magical mix-up.

Image Credit: Rex via Twitter
 
The play is largely performed within its original context, with the majority of the costumes reflecting original Elizabethan dress. There are, however, several deviations which makes the play feel slightly incongruous, such as Nick Bottom’s trilby hat, and Titania’s fairies who are portrayed through small fairy bodies dangling down from the actors’ neon bewigged heads. The rest of the actor’s actual bodies are disguised by black costumes, and therefore the doll like fairies appear to fly as they make high pitched giggling noises. Theatrical decisions such as this are undeniably humorous, yet at times the tone of the play ventures a little too far into the ridiculous. Whilst The Dream is renowned as one of Shakespeare’s most fantastical comedies, at times the play would benefit from allowing the subtleties of the text and plot to create the humour, opposed to caricatured performances. This being said, Puck stealing sunglasses, food, and drinks, which he subsequently showers over the audience is a perfect crowd pleaser.

Image Credit: Rex via Twitter
 
There’s a surprising lack of music in the production, which is usually a key feature of Shakespeare plays, particularly modern adaptations that often juxtapose time periods by experimenting with contemporary music (think Emma Rice’s recent use of rock bands in her productions for the Globe). Instead, CSF’s Dream uses bells and far off wind chimes to mystically announce the presence of fairies, and elongated sections of African-esque drums that create a frenzied palpable atmosphere, perfect for the spirits to wreak their havoc, and the lovers and madmen to live out their riotous romances.

Cambridge Shakespeare Festival runs until 25 August 2018. A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs until 28 July at King’s College Gardens, Queen’s Road, Cambridge CB3 9DS
 
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