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Review: Energetic and entertaining ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’

A double bill of supernatural Shakespeare arrived in Cardiff tonight (Tuesday October 8th), with the opening of the Watermill Ensemble’s engaging production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the New Theatre.

It’s an energetic and hugely entertaining adaptation of the ultimate romantic comedy of fairy spells, love, and mistaken identity.

The talented cast of ten take on multiple roles and play musical instruments too, as the action is punctuated with well-judged and brilliantly performed soulful songs by the likes of Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Sam Cooke, and Laura Mvula – including a show-stopping version of My Baby Just Cares for Me.

Emma Barclay is the comedy stand-out as a female Bottom – perhaps channelling the spirit of Victoria Wood in a performance which generates plenty of laughs, not least when she’s turned into an ass and unexpectedly becomes the object of fairy queen Titania’s (Emma McDonald) desire.

Even if you’re familiar with the play, I doubt you’ve seen a production quite like this – it demands a lot from the cast, and they deliver.

Their versatility is astounding. As an example, Offue Okegbe personifies seriousness as Theseus, but delivers a superb comedy turn as the ‘mechanical’ playing the part of a wall in the play within the play – trust me, it makes sense, and will delight you. He then turns up playing a mean bass guitar in the musical numbers!

Then there’s Emma McDonald doubling up as the respectable Hippolyta and the lustful Titania – and playing the saxophone.

This is a superb production, full of laughs and very accessible for the newcomer, which would make it a perfect gateway to Shakespeare. But its innovative approach, and the superb choice of music, delivers something very new to those who’ve seen the play many times before.

The company, under artistic director Paul Hart, is also performing Macbeth during its week in Cardiff, providing a much darker supernatural story of witchcraft, ghosts and murder.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays at the New Theatre on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 7.30pm, and a Saturday matinee at 1.30pm.

Macbeth is on Wednesday and Saturday at 7.30pm, with a Thursday matinee at 1.30pm.

You can book online here or by phoning the box office on 029 2087 8889.

Review by Andrew Weltch

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