A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Jun 23 2023 | By More

★★★★☆   Accomplished

Saughton Park: Wed 21 – Sat 24 June 2023
Review by Thom Dibdin

In a wood, a league without the Old Town, the players of the Forth Act have set out their stall in an accomplished and highly entertaining al-fresco production of Shakespeare’s great comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

That wood is actually the Italian garden of Saughton Park which, in a nicely poetic coincidence, happens to be around the requisite 3 miles from the Castle. Even if it isn’t outwith Edinburgh itself, as proved by the cries from the nearby skatepark and the occasional inopportune tinkle of the ice-cream van doing the rounds of nearby Stenhouse.

Rhona O’Donnell as Puck. Pic: Andrew Morris.

Early evening of a midsummer night in the Athens of the North is not the starlit twilight you might expect in Athens itself, either. But such discrepancies just make director Helen Schofield’s costume and setting decisions all the more clever as she builds on the full original text.

Schofield’s Dream is transliterated to a sort of cyberpunk version of contemporary Edinburgh. One where King Theseus can still talk of Egeus having rights over the life of his daughter Hermia and of wooing Amazon Queen Hippolyta with the sword, but where the Mechanicals are named after the pub in whose backroom they meet.


And while Shakespeare’s text gives most of the agency to the male characters, Schofield ensures that the agency in the performance lies very much with the female characters – whether it is Cosette Bolt doubling as Hippolyta and the Fairy Queen, Titania; the lovers Hermia (Sophie Ollivier Tyler) and Helena (Sarah Michelle Ault); or Diane Waugh’s Petra – not Peter – Quince, of the Mechanicals.

Cosette Bolt as Titania and Gavin Macdonald as Oberon. Pic Andrew Morris.

Gavin Macdonald’s Theseus, who is about to be married to Hippolyta, is a pretty wan kind of king. You can’t really see him going off and defeating the Amazons in hand-to-hand combat. Maybe it’s Bolt’s brilliant sneering aloofness that puts him off. Macdonald has a bit more spine as Oberon, king of the fairies, but not much.

Of the male quarrelling lovers, Chris Young’s Lysander – in love with Hermia who returns his love – is older than might be expected: her Scottish music teacher is suggested. While Demetrius who also loves Hermia and is preferred by Egeus, but who once loved Helena, is played by Nathaniel Forsyth as a classic rugger-loving student from England.


The basis for the success of the production is its sound speaking of Shakespeare lines, making what could be archaic feel natural. Interestingly, in a company of Scots, English and American actors who mostly speak in their native accents, that ability comes from all quarters.

Chris Young (Lysander), Sophie Ollivier Tyler (Hermia), Cosette Bolt (Hippolyta), Gavin Macdonald (Theseus), Sophie Ollivier Tyler (Helena) and Nathaniel Forsyth (Demetrius). Pic Andrew Morris.

Indeed, the utter clarity with which Gregor Sloss, speaking in a solid Scots accent, puts his case across as angry dad Egeus, and finds the natural meter of the lines, makes a strong case for a production largely in a Scottish accent.

For anyone who carelessly dismisses the American accent as unsuitable for Shakespeare, Cosette Bolt in her doubled queenly roles and Sarah Michelle Ault as Helena both give strong and sustained performances that get right inside some of the most tricky lines in the play.

modern and real

Designer Mary Keegan gives the fairies a costumed steampunk feel, particularly for Titania, Oberon and his right-hand fairy, Puck. It feels modern and real. If there are going to be fairies at the bottom of the garden, they would definitely look like this. Her newspaper outfits for the play within the play are things of delight.

Fairies Mairia Sainz Mairi Cross, Eilidh Smith, with Ian Stewart as Bottom. Pic Andrew Morris.

There’s no flim-flam for the black-clad attendant fairies, either. Mairi Cross gives a strong vocal performance as Titania’s main fairy, Mustardseed, with Eilidh Smith and Mairia Sainz adding further levels of movement to the roles of Peaseblossom and Cobweb, who have few lines.

Of the fairies, it is Puck who really drives the piece. Rhona O’Donnell gives him a really mischievous air, creating a character who seems to regard themselves as much Oberon’s equal as his servant jester. O’Donnell has a nice intimacy to her when called upon to address the audience directly and well-judged comedic moments as puppet masters to the other characters.

tragic mirth

The real comedy of the piece lies with the mechanicals: their rehearsals of the “tedious brief scene of young Pyramus and his love Thisbe; very tragic mirth” and its performance for the nuptial party – despite the rather delicious protestations of Susan Cameron as Philostrate, Theseus’s head of entertainment.

With the mechanicals, Schofield is able to be most inventive in her re-characterisation of the players, giving them appropriate contemporary jobs. Quince, who organises them all, is a librarian; Starveling (Phil Dalgleish) is a bike delivery rider for Oberon Eats, Snug (David Blackie) is a scaffolder and Tom Snout (Wag) a tour guide.

Susan Cameron (Petra Quince), David Blackie (Snug), Ian Stewart (Bottom), Michael Stephens (Flute), Phil Dalgleish Starvelling) and Wag (Tom Snout). Pic Andrew Morris.

Francis Flute (Michael Stephens) is a bagpipe mender and Bottom (Ian Stewart) is a weaver of tweed. All discharge their parts appropriately. Their down to earth performances do much to give the whole piece its positively contemporary feel while the play-within-the-play is just the right level of juicy comedy without being over the top as they interact with the nuptial party.

Stewart is a fine Bottom. Playing it relatively straight but finding plenty of comedy as he does so. Particularly when transformed into an ass with the three attendant fairies clearly disgusted by him, while Bolt as Titania drags every last drop of innuendo from her lines.


Much effort and attention to detail has gone into making the whole production clear, with necessary sound design from Simon Ferguson for the miked-up performers and a contemporary music score to help set each scene by Jingswag.

As both director and producer Helen Schofield has made about as appropriate use of the space as could be hoped for. There are some moments when actors come down onto the apron and you feel for those further back than the third row on the flat seating area, but generally this is an intelligently staged production.

And as a Midsummer Nights Dream on midsummer night? It is a clever and very different production of Shakespeare’s most performed play which makes excellent use of its garden setting. Just don’t forget the midge repellent!

Running time: two hours and 50 minutes (including one interval)
Saughton Park (The Italian Garden), 6 Ford’s Rd, EH11 3BQ.
Wed 21 – Sat 24 June 2023.
Wed – Fri: 7pm, Sat mat 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

The stage and grounds. Pic Andrew Morris.


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