This mixture of Mendelssohn's music for A Midsummer Night's Dream (played and sung by Garsington Opera at Wormsley) and the play itself, proved to be highly successful, giving us a sense at the fall of the curtain (or the fading of the lights in this case) that Shakespeare's play had been a gratifying experience.
Certainly the on-stage orchestra found that indefinable magic during the overture which opened the play, giving us Mendelssohn's "take" on that essential nocturnal essence which bonds the Shakespeare play together and stresses the magic element surrounding the various characters.
David Rintoul's virile and finely-spoken Oberon/Theseus set the tone for the evening, giving us a jealous lover sacrificing everything for revenge on a woman for being, simply, what she is. Titania/Hippolyta was well-spoken by Marty Cruickshank, although it was difficult to believe that this glamorous fairy queen would eventually rape Bottom in her bower as the play progressed. And why the director could find nothing better than a deck chair and a car rug to suggest Titania's fairy cave is a conundrum only he can answer.
Clearly it is Puck, Oberon's lieutenant, who controls the evening Dressed in white tie and tails, and speaking with admirable clarity Oliver Johnstone gave a dazzling performance exploring with admirable finesse the subtleties of this character who can be both charming and malevolent .
The malevolence is there when Puck boasts that he is Oberon's magically empowered jester, with a license to shape-change at will, spilling hot liquid down an old crone's face as he bobs in her drinking bowl in the likeness of a crab apple, and causing another to fall heavily as he moves from beneath her in the likeness of a three-legged stool. The cruel moment when Puck changes Bottom into an ass, had that amoral touch the play and the character call for and we were not disappointed
Johnstone carried it all beautifully and Puck's final benediction on the house was immaculate.
The lovers, always in a mindless tizzy in the forest found all the humour the play asks for although we must remember that cold icy note when Egeus (the excellent David Collings) asks Duke Theseus for the death sentence to be passed on this daughter for refusing to marry the man of his choice.
The second act ushered in the Pyramus and Thisbe sequence, the play within a play performed by the rustics at Theseus and Hippolyta's nuptials.
The comedy element here was huge and knockabout.
As Bottom (Forbes Masson playing with superb skill) died for love of Thisbe (the splendid Kris Lew Kum Hoi with an OTT lipsticked mouth and a crooked flower wreath on his head) fumbled to find the chink in the human wall, the house, and this reviewer too collapsed into gales of laughter. Yet you still heard every word from this visiting company in sharp contrast to certain recent RSC productions.
The Garsington Opera choir sang beautifully at key moments in the play, implying that they too were part of the fairy world by dint of wearing headlamps on their foreheads. This skimpy costuming was no more successful than the costumes themselves which were very much of the contemporary pick and mix variety, dinner jackets for the grandees, but bits of this and that from the community dressing up box for the rest.
Owen Horsley's direction was a tad hit and miss, saved by these good actors and the excellent conductor was Douglas Boyd.