A Midsummer Night's Dream

19th to 22nd July 2023

William Shakespeare | Derby Shakespeare Theatre Company | Directed by Matt Swan

Derby’s Markeaton Park proves the perfect setting for a delightfully comic production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, Shakespeare’s classic tale of love, mischief and magic directed by Matt Swan.

Established in 1908, Derby Shakespeare Theatre Company is one of the country’s oldest amateur theatre companies. The Craft Village courtyard, nestled in the heart of Markeaton Park, is effectively transformed into the Athenian woods for their latest production which combines top quality acting with stunning puppetry for a magical midsummer evening of open-air theatre.

The law and order of the Athenian court is reimagined as the ‘Athens School’ in an interpretation which works well and suits the text. Headmaster Theseus (Richard Whitehorn) and Deputy Hippolyta (Samantha Drake) replace the feuding King and Queen, while the four young lovers become unruly sixth formers donning blazers, ties, and badges.

The love quadrangle at the centre of the play has the potential to confuse and that’s arguably the point: the lovers are in many ways completely interchangeable. Hermia and Lysander are deeply in love with each other and determined to be together, despite Hermia's father, Egeus, (mother in this production, brilliantly played by Jenny Earl) insisting that she marry Demetrius. Helena is in love with Demetrius but her affections are not returned. Instead, Demetrius is infatuated with Hermia. Cue friendship rivalry, jealousy, misunderstandings and comedy chaos once the action shifts to the enchanted forest.

Emma Merrey is a wonderfully sassy, petulant Hermia, nicely capturing the quiet arrogance of the popular schoolgirl. There’s excellent chemistry between her and Zoe Grunnell’s Head Girl Helena, who brilliantly combines insecurity and resilience in the role of the spurned lover who refuses to give up on the pursuit of her love. Jack Anthony and Benjamin Lawley deliver impressively emotional and physical performances as Lysander and Demetrius, the lovers both vying for the affections of Hermia.

Costume design (Emma Duder) is a real highlight of this magical production, particularly in James Dean’s darkly brooding Oberon and Jake Soar’s spritely Puck. Laura Horvath is an excellent Titania, delivering Shakespeare’s poetry beautifully.

The mechanicals, portrayed as a ging gang goolie-singing Scout troupe under Mo Pickering-Symes' jittery leadership as Peter Quince, are a joy. Rick Law is perfectly cast as the overconfident and enthusiastic amateur actor Nick Bottom, fully embracing the absurdity of his character in a performance of great physicality and excellent comic timing. The rest of the troupe double as actors and puppeteers, expertly bringing Peaseblossom, Mustardseed, Moth and Cobweb to life in the form of Emma Duder’s beautiful fairy puppets. Phillip Hodgkiss puts in a cheekily memorable performance as ‘Wall’ in the play-within-a-play, much to the delight and shock of the audience.

A must-see production full of magic and mischief in a stunning setting.

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is playing at Markeaton Park Craft Village in Derby from 19th to 22nd July 2023.