Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream at RHS Harlow Carr

Wednesday 10th July 2019 at RHS Harlow Carr, Harrogate.


It’s always a fun few hours when Oddsocks are on stage entertaining happy pic-nic-ers. This summer season sees the company bring one of the bard’s very best works to the masses with a lively and jovially updated production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

This production simplifies the story smoothly by offering fleeting introductory scenes before launching into the best bits: the ramshackle collection of uncultured workmen rehearsing a shoddy play, the dramatic love triangle of spoilt Athenian youngsters, and characters of the magical realm primed and ready to cause chaos amongst both sets of mortals meandering about in the forest.

The production doesn’t tout a thematic quirky slant on Shakespeare’s classic comedy as has been the case with previous productions (Montague Mods and Capulet Rockers anyone?). I was admittedly a little disappointed to see this but regardless of themed creative twists, the show was characteristically modern, fun-filled and wonderfully engaging. 

Music is a key quirk here as with previous productions, though it doesn’t feature as heavily as it did in, say, Macbeth – but the songs from modern catalogues are well selected to compliment Will’s sentiments and there’s not a soul on stage who can’t at least carry a tune nicely enough.

Andy Barrow (who also writes and directs) is fast becoming a highlight of my theatregoing year. No matter the role, he’s a cracking comic actor and has the kind of stage presence I assume up and comers are busy dreaming of. It seems only right that such a talent should take the golden role of Bottom and as such Barrow once again takes the crown for a brilliantly entertaining and thoroughly silly comic turn (helped more than a little by Vanessa Anderson’s gloriously anything-goes costuming).

Barrow is joined by a fabulous cast this year and in Asha Cornelia Cleur we find our equally energetic Helena and Titania – the former being a hugely entertaining hyper-sensitive loved up puppy and the latter a rather regal butt of Oberon’s jokes. In Alice Merivale we find our charming Hermia – a very modern lass with a grit and a growl shiningly at odds with some of the character’s popular portrayals…making her all the more likeable!

For Demetrius the production offers Alex Wadham and for Lysander, Peter Hoggart. As far as bickering suitors go, they’re a great pairing and the sense of fun created by our four leads permeates every scene, especially when they’re labouring the comedic seeds Shakespeare planted, letting the scenes grow to outlandish proportions in their pursuit of laughs.

A cast of five carry the production, meaning there’s some excellent multi-roling to be seen, with quick changes and tongue in cheek vamping given a joyous outing. Smart, Hoggart and Wadham provide hilarious takes on Titania’s fawning fairies while their performances as the workmen (complete with high-vis, naturally) gift the production its ultimate highlight: the mechanicals’ performance. Brilliantly conceived by Barrow and fantastically performed by all.

Oddsocks are never less than thoroughly entertaining, bringing the bard to the outdoor stage in comic and fearless ways. Their approach is unapologetically uncomplicated and they care not a jot for the pomp of the occasion in terms of performing a great from the literary canon. Instead, they bask in their craft and their ability to bring an old and getting older by the minute play bang up to date with flair and fun. Book!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream marks the 30th anniversary of the company and tours until August 20th 2019 – you can find tickets here.

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