First published in The Times, Sunday June 26 2022
The first production in this year’s summer season sets off a double celebration for Bard in the Botanics. Having endured the many challenges wrought by the pandemic, the company, led by Gordon Barr, the artistic director, is marking its 21st anniversary in style, with its first full programme in three years. As well as revisiting its much-admired 2013 production of Much Ado About Nothing, the company moves beyond its Renaissance comfort zone with a fresh take on Euripides’ Medea.
Meanwhile what better way to begin a summer of outdoor theatre than with a playful imagining of Shakespeare’s busy comedy of love, magic, and rivalry? A decade ago, Barr memorably staged A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a big top, with the action punctuated by cabaret-style showstoppers. Jennifer Dick’s production revels in simpler pleasures, creating an atmosphere of welcoming festivity and celebrating the vagaries of attraction and the transformative power of creativity.
The action is framed by a trippy colour palette, courtesy of Heather Grace Currie, the designer, who clothes the actors in retro flower print, tassels, and fronds. It is a fitting backdrop to a production that takes liberties with its source. Hermia (Grace Lyons) is here in love with Lysandra (Evie Mortimer), which gives chilling new significance to Egeus’s (Stephen Arden) demand that his daughter be put to death for rejecting his chosen suitor. Elsewhere, the roles of Titania (Lynsey-Anne Moffat) and Oberon (Adam Donaldson) are switched so that the fairy queen is now the agent of disruption. The idyll in the forest between Oberon and Bottom (Robert Elkin) is a further enjoyable reversal in a play already brimming with subversion and ambiguity.
Dick’s production is overlong and although the set pieces are well-timed the deeper springs of the comedy are sometimes overlooked in favour of bustle and slapstick. Compensation comes in the form of Sam Stopford, who delivers a nimble, calculating Puck, and, though we are made to wait for it, there is much to enjoy in the mechanicals’ climactic rendition of Pyramus and Thisbe in which the sheer joy of dressing up, taking on new identities and clowning around is balanced with poignant consideration of creativity and the imagination.
Box office: 0141 429 0022, to July 9. Bardinthebotanics.co.uk