David Nice, The Arts Desk
Ill met by moonlight: the four lovers in Middle Temple Hall, plus garlanded musicians All images by Celia Bartlett Photography
You rarely see a full production of Shakespeare’s dream play so magical it brings tears to the eyes. But then you don’t often get 42 players and 14 voices joining the cast to adorn the text with Mendelssohn’s bewitching incidental music, plus the Overture composed 16 years earlier – certainly the most perfect masterpiece ever written by a 17-year-old. Add a fluent ensemble of actors, a sense of high style in costume design and, above a simple stage with audience on three sides and the orchestra on the fourth, a hammerbeam oak forest in the very hall where Twelfth Night had its first known performance, and you can expect a certain perfection.
Tightly organised romantic sentiment comes before the Shakespearean sharp edges of David Edwards‘s pacy supervision, trimming the text but never butchering it as seems to have been the case with Garsington’s version last summer. James Henshaw, assistant chorus master at English National Orchestra and working on the company’s forthcoming Jenůfa, has the total confidence to get the right precision from the excellent young Outcry Ensemble – game to be flower-wreathed – in the Overture’s fairy music, the perfect shaping of its love themes and a rustic rudeness to the mechanicals’ bergomask stomp.