The Savill Garden in Windsor Great Park is possibly the perfect setting for Shakespeare’s most colourful and bewitching play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Amongst the fragrant folds of the flora and fauna, adorned fairies of the wood run, jump and play, with magic thick in the heavily-scented air.
In Watch Your Head’s production, the cast is a strong and emphatic mix of contrast and clash. Paige Round’s Helena is loud and outspoken, contrasting the softer Hermia (played by Sara Langridge). Jared Garfield’s Lysander and Edward Firth’s Demetrius are both filled with boyish appeal, but it is the imposing Oberon (Jack Bannell) who commands attention as the lovers attempt to escape the draconian laws of Athens, running straight into the rift between him and his queen, Titania (Anneli Page). As the mortal and magical couples shift in and out of love and consciousness, a mischievous Puck, played by Joss Wyre, weaves unpredictable threads of magic around each one.
In addition to the ethereal, comedy also comes thick and fast in Watch Your Head’s production. Olly Lavery’s Bottom is simply hilarious, as is the effeminate Flute (Joshua Considine). It’s rare to see the Mechanicals’ scenes performed with such comic originality and choreographed skill, and the production is worth attending for their performance alone.
The original score for the production, composed by Bruno Major, is a beautifully considered marriage of country folk and Jazz Age blues. These musical pieces follow the audience and the players everywhere, offering a multitude of well-crafted tunes at various points throughout the performance: from twee, light-hearted revelry to hushed harmonies of lullabies. In Watch Your Head’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the audience step not into their seats or before a stage, but into an entirely new world. Undoubtedly Major’s music adds dimension to this creation, as does Shabnam Spier’s intricate costume design, which blends the players seamlessly into their natural environs. Nature clearly serves as the inspiration behind the dazzling floral headpieces and embellished gowns that enshrine those of the fairy kingdom.
Watch Your Head aims to achieve a theatrical experience where the set, language and performance play equal parts. But in fact the company has created something far greater: they have conjured a production where the three are not equal, but inextricably linked – where the set shapes the nuances of the performance, which in turn dances playfully around the space, adding limitless charm, colour and creativity to the language. The result is a production so natural and so effortless it is impossible not to be entranced: from the overpowering commands of Oberon ringing out into the dell, to the haphazard tomfoolery in the Mechanicals’ bar, for me a production has never been quite so engaging. The language is delivered with such resonance and mastery that I lost count of how many age-old images or metaphors struck me anew. Indeed, the enchanting magnetism of the entire production has many audience members running away with the fairies (quite literally!).
Afterwards, walking past Lysander and Demetrius’s discarded straw hats, and spotting Hermia’s fur shawl a little further along, I stepped back through glades littered with remains of the chaos that unfurled through them only moments before. These silent, unmoving reminders are charged and alive, triggering sharp memories of the lovers’ scenes that played through my head as if my own. And as I walked on, I met the approaching, blurry world of the visitor centre, the car park and my impending journey home with distracted and reluctant acceptance.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is playing at The Savill Garden, Windsor Great Park until 19 July. For more information, visit the Watch Your Head website. Photo by Sam Churchill.