"The Maria Bjornson outdoor theatre is a lovely venue for the play, located in the heart of Robinson College’s gardens and surrounded by the sound of running water"Photo by Karolina Rawdanowicz with permission for Varsity

A Midsummer Night’s Dream presented by Robinson Open Air Shakespeare – feels less like the fevered dream that Puck extorts the audience to treat it as than waking up hungover the afternoon after May Ball, and being hit with the inebriated memories of what you and your mates did at 3am.

One of Shakespeare’s most famous plays – in large part due to the fact that it appears in many GCSE curricula – A Midsummer Night’s Dream interweaves three different stories: Oberon and Puck and their poor treatment of Titania; Helena, Lysander, Demetrius, and Hermia’s various will-they-won’t-theys in the woods; and Bottom and the Rude Mechanicals’ mission to stage a play that won’t get them hanged.

“The staging itself was very simple [...] but it worked well”

The Maria Björnson outdoor theatre is a lovely venue for the play, located in the heart of Robinson College’s gardens and surrounded by the sound of running water. The staging itself was very simple, consisting of a fence and a few tree stumps, but it worked well. None of the actors had microphones, but for the most part projected loudly enough that they were entirely comprehensible.

Lysander and Demetrius (Temi Idowu and Katya Stylianou) were played by female actors (and renamed Lysandra and Demetria in the programme) with some words and pronouns inconsistently changed to reflect this while others were left as they appeared in Shakespeare’s original text. Sadly, the production did not really do anything interesting with the changed gender dynamics. Indeed, there was a great deal of cognitive dissonance in one scene in particular where Helena rebukes Hermia: ‘tis not maidenly, our sex as well as I, may chide you for it,’ while the two suitors stood roughhousing in the back of the stage. In a different play, this could have been an interesting moment exploring the dramatic irony of the statement, however in this play it felt underused.

“Temi Idowu should also be praised for stepping into the role with only 72 hours’ notice”

Criticisms aside, A Midsummer Night’s Dream was enjoyable enough, with a great comedic tone throughout. Francesca Lees as Bottom was a standout role and elevated every scene that she was in, including a surprisingly expressive performance while literally wearing a plush donkey’s head. Temi Idowu should also be praised for stepping into the role of Demetria with only 72 hours’ notice and, despite a few instances where she had to refer to a script, carrying it off with aplomb.

The music direction was good, with the music loud enough to be heard but not so loud as to drown out the actors’ words – especially important as there was no amplification. The music - which was an original composition by Music Director Ben Cole - worked wonderfully with the play. Annie Stedman (Peaseblossom the Fairy) and Gabriel Jones (Puck) had a song each that they handled admirably.


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Where the play truly shone was the physicality of the actors and especially the delicate balletic movements of the fairies as contrasted to the more grounded swaggering of the Rude Mechanicals. The stage direction was very physical, with the actors often running – or even jumping – on and off the stage. This worked very well, adding vitality and forward momentum.

There were also lovely touches of humour scattered throughout the play including a clever use of an air mattress and fourth-wall-breaking back and forths between Puck and the musicians. Scenes, where the majority of the cast occupied the stage, worked very well, adding visual interest and allowing the actors to add little quirks to their characters.

A Midsummer Night's Dream is playing at 7pm at Robinson College Gardens Tue 21st – Wed 22nd June