While the squabble on about whether Lear, Hamlet or the two part Henry’s are the greatest of Shakespeare’s achievements will go on for centuries to come, there is no doubt that in the Dream Shakespeare created his most populist and flat out enjoyable work. Which is why in this special anniversary year there are so many productions of it taking place all over the country from Ipswich to the Globe, Bath Theatre Royal to the BBC Bank holiday celebration. In my calculations, this reviewer will be seeing at least four versions alone this year but it’s never a hardship, in the countless versions I’ve seen over the past fifteen years I’ve never left with anything but a grin etched all over my face.
That inane smile remained etched on my cheeks during Christopher Scott’s primary colours production of it for Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’s annual second year South West tour. Scott and designer Mike Bearwish have set it in an 1870s Yorkshire Mill, drab and monochrome to start, until the weaver Nick Bottom (Georgia Frost) falls asleep and brings us into a world of colourful Victorian music hall. This framing really suits the magic and confusion of the forest middle acts have the feel of a dream that grows more surreal as it grows with interchanging lovers, fighting fairies and an ass who gets seduced by a queen. It is a deliberate lo-fi take, for practical reasons as the company become wandering players over the next month with a series of one-night stands across the region, but also in a play that celebrates the art of just getting up and doing it for the love, no other way seems to suit it more.
There is clearly a lot to look forward to from the 2017 graduating class of Bristol Old Vic. Frost makes a brilliant, strutting Bottom, she is the alpha in these mechanical players, her ego dictating and driving them forward much to the exasperation of Euan Shanahan’s self-designated director Quince. Emily Williams and Eleanor House play up the comedy of female friendship falling apart over a man while Rudolphe Mdlongwa and Ellis Duffy do what they can with the always rather beige-on-the- page Lysander and Demetrius. There is a terrifying puckish Puck from Laura Soper while Alice Kerrigan does an impressive double as the nervous Snug, who tells her audience not to be affeared of her pussycat Lion in my favourite line in the play, and of the fairy queen Titania, even if her sexy seductive take on the role is rather let down by a hideous forest costume that looks like something an eager but hopeless parent would dress their child in during a forest themes dress down day.
This is the only mist-step in an evening full of delight. though. There have been more ambitious and intellectually challenging versions but few that have flown along on such sure footing and brings such joy to my heart.
Runs until the 28 May 2016 and then tours the South West until the 30 June | Image: Toby Farrow