Summer’s onset leads, like the turning of the seasons, to a crop of plays performed in the balmy environs of college quadrangles, and it’s with almost equal unstoppability that we see at least one of these, every year, to be Shakespeare’s tale of Woman’s love for Beast. The sheer frequency with which it’s performed makes this most luminous and stylish of comedies subject of a close watch, even cross-examination.
In an imaginative bid for reinterpretation Sophie Duncan’s production in Oriel shifts the play into Blitz Britain, transforming the fairies into abducted evacuees in lost-boy style fairy-schoolgirl outfits and giving the Rude Mechanicals even more the air of a group of earnest misfits as Home Guards. It’s a lively and interestingly skewed view on a wonderful show and if the weather holds one well worth your money.
That said, it’s difficult these days to say with the properly casual air, even to an Oxford readership, “If you only see one Midsummer this year…”. A judgment particularly difficult in this case as Sarah Branthwaite’s OUDS Japan Tour offering has not yet seen the light of day. It must truly be a tribute to the quality of the drama scene that two entirely seperate Midsummer Night’s Dream casts could exist side-by-side.
However it’s the decidedly un-military Mechanicals who light up this show, most notably John-Mark Philo’s enormously entertaining Bottom. ‘Fabulous’ would perhaps be more apt; the rattling, fustian camp of his performance transforms Bottom’s unwilling seduction by the queen of the fairies into a hilarious spectacle of a groomed, healthy young man trying to let an amorous lady down easy: Philo has the presence of a hippo kickline.
Particularly entertainingly warped is the ‘chink’ in Maxim Cardew’s marvellously deadpan Wall, through which Philo steals a moment’s romance with Jessica Wild’s Flute, a woman playing a man playing a woman with poise. Flute’s mourning for the play-dead Bottom often feels like the play’s real ending and Wild’s sweetly solemn is carried into a stirring, candlelit conclusion on Oriel’s library steps.
Dir. Sophie Duncan
Oriel College, 8pm