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A Midsummer Night's Dream - Royal Shakespeare Company Review

Reviewed by Mark Johnson
Tickets were gifted in return for an honest review

Whilst the weather of late may be more akin to The Tempest, Eleanor Rhode's sublime A Midsummer Night's Dream is an enchanting treat as Winter heads towards Spring.

Mathew Baynton as Bottom. Photo by Pamela Raith.

Rhode's production combines technical wizardry with brilliant performances to serve up a comedic tour-de-force that is chock full of humour. This dream plays out on a largely bare dark stage but add in John Bulleid's illusions and Matt Daw's lighting and this dream is a fantastical watch as it unfolds. Bulleid's clever trickery matches with Daw's lanterns which show a rainbow of colour to transform the space into a magical playground.

Shakespeare's classic comedy tells the story of four love-struck Athenians whose romantic endeavors play out a series of mistaken identities as Oberon, The King of the Fairies, and his sprite Puck leave spells and enchantments that lead to crossed wires of attraction for the four. You also have the story of the Mechanicals, a troupe of amateur actors who are preparing their short play of the story of the ill-fated love of Pryamus and Thisbe. 

Helming much of the pre-show chatter is the casting of Mathew Baynton (BBC's Ghost and Horrible Histories) as Bottom. His previous comedic performances prove him to be the perfect casting for the role. He has a confidence and ease to delivering the role.  Whenever Baynton is on the stage you are drawn to him.

Bayton is surrounded by a terrific group of actors that comes to the fore when they perform their play to a side-splittingly funny result. Helen Monks' well-rounded Peter Quince tries to lead the group but it's Emily Cundick's role as The Wall/The Tomb that has some of the biggest laughs. Watch out for Premi Tamang's Starveling who as the Moon takes on something more befitting to a horror movie, Laurie Jamieson's roar-some Lion and Mitesh Soni who has a hoot reluctantly taking on the female role of Thisbe.

Rosie Sheehy as Puck. Photo by Pamela Raith

Dawn Sievewright as Hermia and Boadicea Ricketts as Helena are both tremendous. They carry the roles with a light bright air, whilst also packing enough punch. Nicholas Armfield as Demetrius and Ryan Hutton as Lysander match well with doting love and feeling especially once the enchantments take over which plays out hilariously. The four actors are clearly enjoying exploring the role and the relationships and this plays out as you just soak up their great work.

Bally Gill as Theseus and Oberon and Sirine Saba as Hippolyta and Titania are also well matched and play out the relationships of the roles well. Gill's Oberon has a real mystical and enchanting quality that is engaging to watch.

In a company of outstanding performances, it's Rosie Sheehy who shines the brightest as Puck. The striking costume, hair and make-up enable Sheehy to explore the role with otherworldly skill. There's some beautiful movement and voice work that shows the quality of performance further. The sense of mischief and playfulness as Sheehy interacts with the lovers and the other fairies, who are only seen represented as lights and by voice, allows her to show the full potential of the role. 

Rhode's vision and clarity of the text are delivered exquisitely by a terrific company. There are a couple of moments that are a little lost, such as the transformation of Bottom into the Donkey and the random use of dropped balls but none of these distract from the sheer fun of this production. 

The casting of Baynton may bring in a younger audience to the RSC and this fresh and lively version will surely want them to return. Whether this is your first Dream or not, this is a practically perfect visionary production that packs in magic and laughter. A magnificent beginning to an exciting 2024 for the RSC. 


A Midsummer Night's Dream plays at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon until Saturday 30th March 2024. Tickets are available from

Photo by Pamela Raith

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