Shakepeare's romantic comedy, A Midsummer Night's Dream, is one of his most popular works, so it's not surprising that the majority of hands are up when The Pantaloons ask their audience whether they've heard of the play at the beginning of today's performance. It also breaks the ice nicely, so everyone knows this production of Shakespeare is going to be a little more interactive than you'd see at, say, The Globe.
For those unfamiliar with the plot, it follows the adventures of four Athenian lovers as they enter the fairyland woods where the King and Queen of the Fairies (Oberon and Titania), Puck, Bottom and a bunch of amateur actors generally make chaos with their love-craved desperate antics. But to be fair, if you're unfamiliar with the plot then perhaps open-air theatre is not the place to first get acquainted, as there's a good chance you're going to miss chunks of the dialog in the rustling of the trees. Or the crying of the child. Or the beep-beep-beep, 'vehicle reversing' of the lawnmower.
But Shakespeare al-fresco is nothing if not raw and quite stimulating. Ask a Pantaloon why they do this outside rather than in the warm and cosy setting of a traditional theatre with a roof, and they will say something along the lines of it's to recapture an aspect of Shakespeare's drama which modern naturalistic theatre has lost: the riotous energy of the clown. Or, at least, that's what they'd say if they were reading their own programme notes. It's a reasonably good point too. Whilst the rest of the world was getting all Peter Brook and artsy, Pantaloons are merrily engaging people with the text. Literally.
The story is all here, but there is the occasional rather liberal interpretation. The environment demands it. Kids walk across the 'stage', or swipe props. They also segue into their own play within a play within a play throughout, and it's a satire.
Needless to say, this cast are talented folk. They can hold the attention of a crowd of people who have no investment in staying for over two hours whilst the Edinburgh weather is looking like it may turn at any moment. They can cope with distractions most professionals would get all I'll be in my trailer over. They can convincingly deliver a line, without amplification, across a field in a hurricane. Surely, then, they should be the most highly paid at their craft. But no, they do this stuff for free - although donations are gratefully accepted.
A question for Dom Comway who plays Puck. Where on earth do you get all that energy from?
I first saw a Pantaloon production last year when they did Cymbeline in the same setting at the Fringe. I have to say that they set the bar rather high with that production, and Midsummer Night didn't quite reach the same high-octane levels. But it's highly recommended nevertheless, so pack a brolly, jumper and a thermos and get out to the Royal Botanical Gardens for a unique Shakespearian experience.