THIS production of one of Shakespeare’s best-loved comedies by Immersion Theatre gave the audience the choice of a “light” version on Wednesday or a “dark” version on Thursday — the dividing line between them being the atrocities of the First World War. I saw the “light” or “dream” version on the Wednesday.
Set before the start of the war in an idyllic garden with birds singing in the trees, this production played to the now generally-accepted wisdom of the world being a safer, more light-hearted and innocent place before all the carnage began.
Shakespeare loved a bit of mixed-up identity, fatherly tyranny and feisty daughters refusing to marry the men chosen for them, and this play has all those things in spades. What makes it different from his other comedies is the way he interlaces this love story with fairies and magic. It’s farcical and ridiculous, but at the same time satisfying because his poetry breathes life into the notion that love is ethereal and irrational.
The cast of this fringe company, usually based at the Brockley Jack theatre in south London, was limited but by doubling up the same actor to play the duke of Athens and Oberon the fairy king (and likewise his financée Hippolyta and Titania) the theme of reality being suspended for a night as love weaves its magic really shone through.
Ella Garland made a charming, mischievous Puck and in a beautiful set — designed by Henley’s own Heather Simpkin — there were some impressive moments of physical drama where the chief fairy, invisible to the humans, waved her arms and had them thrashing about in agony or else turned to stone.