So how, exactly, do you depict a fairy in 2019? Not, for sure, like a traditional Victorian Christmas decoration. Designer Rachael Channing’s dark fairies are clickily sinister on menacing stilts with strange, spiky dendrological headpieces. You definitely wouldn’t want to meet them on a dark night, which is, of course, exactly what happens to the four lovers (in pyjamas on this occasion) during their long-shared erotic dream in the wood.
The tree-like fairy concept is one of several things which distinguish Open Air Theatre’s first production of this play for seven years. The evocative “scary” sound track (Paddy Cunneen), often enhanced by Tomi Ogbaro on onstage double bass, is effective too. The whole cast bergomask after Pyramus and Thisbe is a choreographical, sharply angular delight (Emily-Jane Boyle) and I admired the puppeted changeling child and the huge illuminated ring which dominates the set and forms Titania’s bed.
There’s also some fine acting. Remy Beasley is outstanding as Helena. She squeezes every nuance of pathos, passion and absurdity out of the role with terrific panache, making her character much more interesting than she usually is. Susan Wokoma’s Bottom is a joy too too – earnest, funny and feisty. As Theseus/Oberon Kieran Hill has authority worn lightly. It isn’t an easy balance but his is a nicely judged performance. I was less comfortable with Myra McFayden’s diminutive, androgynous Puck played as a Glaswegian comic. She does it well enough but as an interpretation I found it grating.
I wish, too, that director Dominic Hill hadn’t succumbed to the temptation to overegg the pudding. This production includes too much gratuitous fussiness such a completely unnecessary, distracting puppeted Cupid to illustrate Oberon’s instruction to Puck and why, when Oberon is anointing Titania’s eyes does he suddenly morph into a giant spider? We really don’t need animal noises to enhance the list of creatures Oberon wants Titania to fall in love with either.