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A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Cambridge Arts Theatre.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, performed by The Marlowe Society is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, January 28.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Cambridge University’s Marlowe Society at Cambridge Arts Theatre.

This production reminded me of an old witticism. Noel Coward, having seen an actor he knew give a really bad performance on stage, had promised to go back stage and see him. He didn’t know what he was going to say.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, performed by The Marlowe Society is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, January 28.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, performed by The Marlowe Society is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, January 28.

But on reaching the dressing room he said cheerfully: “Old boy, GOOD isn’t the word!”

The concept for this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Derek Bond, is that the whole play is a dream.

Reminding us in the programme that in Shakespeare’s day, a small cast of actors would play several parts, the premise is that the king and queen might dream of going into the forest and living as fairies, free to love whom they would and live how they liked.

Sadly, the concept is failed by casting against type. There is change for change sake.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, performed by The Marlowe Society is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, January 28.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, performed by The Marlowe Society is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, January 28.

Yes, you can have gender blind casting, you can have men playing women and women playing men, but they have to be able to act extremely well to carry that off.  It can’t be talent blind as well.

The audience still needs to suspend disbelief. They still need to believe in the characters.

Here you have the same actor playing Theseus, as a rather unsure and hesitant king and also playing Titania Queen of the Fairies as a giant drag act dressed in a silver cloak, which he sweeps about petulantly as he stomps about the stage.

The trap for drag acts – even among professionals – is imagining that putting on a frock is all there is to it. There is more to acting as a woman than reciting the lines and putting on a faux tantrum.

In the opening scene Theseus and his intended bride Hippolyta (Temitope Idowu)–are so mournful, it is as if they are about to go to a funeral rather than their wedding.

Possibly that’s deliberate but it’s not in the script. They are both a lot livelier when he plays Titania and she plays Oberon – but I would have so liked to have seen her as the queen of the fairies. If he had been cast as an oafy, clumsy Oberon, we would have understood why she fell in love with a donkey.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, performed by The Marlowe Society is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, January 28.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, performed by The Marlowe Society is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, January 28.

The mechanicals – adroit as they are, are all middle class. Wonderfully articulate but not yokels.

Kitty Ford has great stage presence as Bottom the Weaver but (albeit it’s a compliment) she is more reminiscent of Joyce Grenfell as a wonderfully witty public school headmistress, than a tradesman.

Shakespeare isn’t easy to get across. It helps if the lines are said naturally. Plaudits to Xoan Elsdon as an endearingly understated Demetrius.

Over the years, Cambridge University’s Marlowe Society has put on some excellent productions of Shakespeare at Cambridge Arts Theatre, cleverly staged, with sharp comic timing and a joy to see. This show, like the casting, breaks the trend.

Director Derek Bond should have known better and given these young people a chance to show what they could do. He could have told some of them, for example that they can act while other people are speaking. They shouldn’t be standing there limply with folded arms waiting for their line.

The actor Tom Conti complained this week about women playing men’s roles. The point of putting on theatre he said was to give the best performance you could to entertain the audience. It wasn’t to try to make up for the inequalities in society. Sadly, this production makes his point.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, performed by The Marlowe Society is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, January 28.

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