Peter Hall's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream (at the Opera House, Manchester) is artful and satisfying. It pays lip service to fantasy with rich sylvan settings for the scenes of magical intervention but concentrates solidly on the comedy. At times during the appearances of Bottom, Peter Quince and the "rude mechanicals" the gaiety comes over with the infectious, conspiratorial bounce of good pantomime, and Puck is allowed to raise laughter by discovering his remedies with the glib delight of a television ad-man. No matter. At last here is "A Midsummer Night's Dream" which never confuses, always entertains and rouses the laughter of small children, as it properly should. The tempo rises steadily to the first interval, drops to skim economically through the further magical complications and then shoots up to a climax of detailed brilliance as the "hard-handed homespuns" present their story of Pyramus and Thisbe before the Duke of Athens.
Diana Rigg, as Helena, gives a remarkable performance. Her voice varies from the rich meanderings of reflection on her loveless state to the squeaks and titters of outrage verging on hysteria. Her body keeps pace with awkward puppetlike movements of remonstrance as Demetrios, Lysander, and Hermia appear to mock her.
Tony Steedman's bland Theseus, Paul Hardwick's Bottom, Michael William's Puck and Ian Richardson's Oberon are the strongest interpretations in a cast united in enjoying itself.