It was a wet and windy afternoon as I ventured forth to see the Royal Northern College of Music’s production of Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
I was a bit emotional as I’d just listened to the funeral of Freda Fry, the great silent radio star of Archers fame, who’d suffered a heart attack during the terrible floods of March in Ambridge. The weather watchers among you will have already noticed that Ambridge was the only village smited by waters of such biblical proportions – but as Ambridge is fictional I suppose we can’t quibble. Though I did begin to wonder if the watery plague might have been visited on the Am by mischievous Puck, sent by Oberon and Titania from nearby Starley’s Copse for all the sexual shenanigans of recent episodes, a kind of Midwinter night’s wet dream.
I’m sorry if I appear to have been turned into a bit of an ass, as if my fevered imagination had got the better of me, which of course is the central premise of Britten’s opera based on Shakespeare’s play.
The story goes thus: Oberon (Kieron-Connor Valentine), the fairy king, is in dispute with his queen, Titania (Joanna Norman) over custody of the Asian baby. Oberon instructs the cheeky Puck (Charlotte Christensen) to cast spells over his queen, spreading confusion to two pairs of Athenian lovers and a group of mechanicals rehearsing a play for the forthcoming marriage of the Duke of Athens (Eugene Dillon-Hooper) to Hippolyta (Charlotte Badham). The lovers, Lysander (Alexander Banfield) and Hermia (Jessica Eccleston) fall out when Lysander falls for Helena (Anne-Marie Loveday) much to the annoyance of Demetrius (Thomas Cameron), all induced by Puck. More interestingly he turns one of the mechanicals, Bottom (James Fisher) into an ass, who Titania falls for and seduces. All of which is watched over by a fistful of fairies, all wistful charm and inquiry.
It seems as if all is resolved after a good night’s sleep and a sprinkling of fairy dust. Lysander is back with Hermia, Demetrius is back with Helena. Titania returns to the arm of Oberon after realising she had given herself to an ass (a not uncommon feeling among 50 per cent of the audience, if not the entire population) and Bottom is returned to his pre-ass self.
The mechanicals perform their comical play at the wedding of the Duke and Hippolyta and Athens is returned to a happy state. The spirits of the forest return to the shadows and Puck bids us farewell and good journey into the night as if it had been but a ‘midsummer night’s dream’.
My attempt to review this production could have turned into a nightmare as all the programmes had been sold out, this being the last performance of what has been a very successful run. But my ass was saved by the good-hearted and diligent Charlie (Charlotte) who after much to-ing and fro-ing, found a cast list from which to crib the names of those involved.
As you would expect of Britten’s modernist pen, this is a musically complex score, but it’s handled adroitly by Andrew Greenwood and the RNCM opera orchestra. Occasionally voices got lost amid the cacophony, but only occasionally. I was particularly taken with the counter-tenor of Valentine’s Oberon and the still majesty of his performance, looking as he did like a green Darth Maul. As I said in my preview I always expect a professional performance from RNCM operas and this is what I got. It was a hugely enjoyable afternoon and a dream of a production.
Rating (out of five):