THEATRE REVIEW: A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play for the Nation - at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon.

THERE are times in the world of theatre when you know you have seen something out of the ordinary, that little bit special - and this latest RSC production of Shakespeare’s much loved comedy provided it in all its glory.

And the great thing about it is the rest of the country will get a chance to see it too if they can get their hands on a much sought after ticket.

The joyous buzz from the audience as they made their way home spoke volumes, with all comments appearing to confirm the ‘considerable feast’ they had just consumed so enjoyably.

Billed as a play for the nation it achieves its aim as perfectly as cupid’s arrows did between the star-crossed lovers in this highly commendable offering in which the cast is dressed in what would have been fashionable or expected in the middle of the last century.

It’s part of the RSC’s year-long programme of activity to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and it will be rumbustiously rampaging around the North-East, Wales, East Anglia and elsewhere, putting smiles on the faces of all who get the opportunity to see it.

That’s especially so with the local amateur theatrical groups who are playing the motley group of Mechanicals, whose ‘tragic play’ within the play is an eye-watering farce.

Stratford’s press night had the Nonentities Society from the Wyre Forest on stage and they were seriously outstanding. Well, far from serious, they were an absolute hoot!

They played it for laughs and bagged them by the bundle.

‘Yow’ can’t miss Chris Clarke’s booming, bostin' Black Country weaver Bottom which threw in plenty of dash and style, even when sporting a helmet crowned with three old paintbrushes. His meeting through the crack in ‘the wall’ - provided by Simon Hawkins (Snout), with Andrew Bingham’s Snug - the ‘tragic heroine' of the Mechanical’s play - was a hilarious highlight.

The Bard’s brilliant comedy also offered up a truly memorable Puck, delightfully and demonstrably delivered by the effervescent Lucy Ellinson in what is her RSC debut season.

Top hatted, she was top drawer and offered every hope that here is a young lady who is going to charm us for years to come.

Nimble and nifty, she exuded great stage presence and appeared to be everywhere - pinging the braces sported by Chris Nayak’s Demetrius, teasing others and enjoying plenty of fun and interaction with the audience, including enticing giggling fits from a section of the front row as she clambered over and past them…

As is sometimes said - make a note of this young lady’s name.

Elsewhere, considering many in the cast are in their RSC debut season, there were a host of other outstanding performances ensuring this was an uplifting night of theatrical entertainment.

Laura Riseborough’s expressive Helena springs straight to mind, along with Chu Omambala’s commanding Oberon, the King of Fairies, and his attractive queen, Titania, exuberantly played by a familiar name and face from our television screens, Ayesha Dharker.

What a way and what a tribute for this 400th year celebration of the death of our greatest playwright, William Shakespeare.

They did you proud Bill, if ‘yow know wot ar meen’.

*** This production is running from February 17 to March 5 at Stratford before touring the UK from March 16 to June 4, and it will then return to Stratford between June 15 and July 16.

In each area - with visits to 11 towns and cities such as Blackpool, Belfast, Cardiff, Norwich, Newcastle and Truro, the 18-strong professional cast will be joined by one of 14 local amateur theatre companies who will play the roles of the Mechanicals, while local schoolchildren will form part of Titania’s fairy team. This is an arrangement developed between the RSC and Equity and they’ve surely backed a winner!

The other amateur group performing at the RST is Stratford’s own Bear Pit Theatre Company.

It truly is a play for the nation. A fun-filled forest where the spirits will certainly give everyone’s spirit a joyful lift.