The Regents Park Open Air Theatre is a fantastic setting for a childrens version of the fairy filled Midsummer Nights Dream. What better place to capture the imagination of little ones than an atmospheric amphitheatre in one of Londons leafiest parks?
The New Shakespeare Company specialise in bringing Shakespeare to new audiences who might not have considered The Bard before. This production, directed by Dominic Leclerc, takes this to a new level, attracting an army of middle class families and children as young as eighteen months on an overcast Saturday morning. Billed as Shakespeares comedy re-imagined for everyone over six. this production is playing at a variety of child friendly times throughout July.
Rachael Cannings set and costumes turn Athens and its forest into a playroom, complete with building blocks and a giant dressing up box. The action revolves around the box, which doubles up as changing room, as well as the bed for Titania, Queen of the Fairies.
Continuing the playroom theme, the characters are dressed and move like wooden dolls, with matching rosy cheeks. This gives the performance an air of that other children’s classic The Nutcracker at times.
With its fairy lights, balloons and bubble machine, the theatre works hard to delight the many children in attendance, many of them wearing their own set of fairy wings. A key element of this production is the invitation given to certain young audience members to take on small parts in scenes, creating some delightful one off moments in the way that only children can.
The play opens with an pantomime style interactive prologue, with Bottom introducing the story in plain English and a number of children playing Theseus, Duke of Athens, Robin Starveling as Moonshine and Tom Snout as Wall.
The rest of the short 100-minute production focuses on the mechanicals scenes featuring Bottom, Peter Quince, Francis Flute and Snug the joiner as they discuss and rehearse their play Pyramus and Thisbe. Despite seeming a little lacking in substance, its to be performed at Theseus wedding to Hippolyta.
With a small cast of just six doubling up on roles, Leclerc also tells the stories of arguing lovers Hermia (Laura Donnelly), Helena, (Annette McLauglin) Lysander (Nicholas Shaw) and Demetrius (Ben Joiner) as well as Titania and her king Oberon. Matthew Hart as Puck, moves in a beautifully faunlike way as Oberons servant, skirting around the edges of the action dressed as a court jester.
Dale Superville is hilarious as Bottom, and the anchor for the production, as he not only performs his traditional scenes but also narrates the prologue and periodically explains the action to the audience. His transformed Bottom, with Donkey head, delights both the children and adults in the audience, especially when his tail falls off and hes forced to improvise with a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey.
The condensing necessary to simplify the play for children inevitably means they lose some parts of the plot and dialogue, focusing mainly on the lovers and Oberons attempt to win Titanias affections. However, for the most part the text remains as Shakespeare intended – meaning that some younger children may struggle. And, by the end of the play, the noise of children fidgeting and beginning to get bored was starting to distract from the action; perhaps it could have done with a few more touches of fairy dust to excite the many girls with their pink wings and ballet shoes in the audience.
In the end it was a new actor who stole the show, in the shape of a small boy plucked from the audience to play Moonshine in the play. His lamp swinging and subsequent accidental destruction of part of the set brought the house down, and even left Bottom calling for his line.