A Midsummer Night's Dream is a play that I never really look forward to seeing, somehow, yet it's one that I'm almost always delighted by in the end. A miracle of clarity, fluidity and uncluttered ease, Peter Hall's new production, just opened at the Rose Theatre in Kingston, gives some fresh reasons to love the play, by presenting it as traditionally as possible. The production also has one particularly special component: Judi Dench, as Titania, a role she first played for Hall at the RSC in 1962.
A brief opening conceit has Dench as Queen Elizabeth I, giving silent approval for the play to begin, and, it appears, taking the role of Titania for herself. But, overall, this is a production that is blessedly free of gimmicks or Brook-isms. Less vigourously vulgar than the excellent last RSC production, it is elegant, intellgent, and very funny. Dench is the big draw of course, and she's glorious - never more so than when cooing with delight over ass-headed Bottom (Oliver Chris), and delivering a "What angel wakes me from my flowery bed?" that brings the house down. But the production is fully inhabited across the board. Even as it mercilessly satirises the mechanics of theatre, the play generously gives every character the chance to shine, and the actors seize those chances here. It's not just the fairy characters who supply the magic: it's there in Oliver Chris's wondrous conceit and posturing (the performance just gets funnier and funnier, culminating in a truly epic death-as-Pyramus); in Charles Edwards's wit and command as Oberon; in the grandeur that Rachel Stirling brings to Helena's unrequited love for Demetrius; in Reece Ritchie's delightful, slightly dangerous mischief-making as Puck; and in the entrancing embrace of Judi Dench's voice, speaking some of the most beautiful lines in Shakespeare. A delightful Dream, indeed.