A Midsummer Night’s Dream remains an English summer classic, whether you are watching Shakespeare, Purcell or Britten; an odd status for a quasi-mythical story set in Greece about lovelorn Athenian aristocrats, their romantic trials relieved by fairies and horny-handed sons of toil. But perhaps it was this quintessential, near-nonsensical Englishness which drew Britten to adapt Dream into an opera in 1960. For Trinity Laban, Olivia Fuchs sets her Dream in the 1970s, and the resulting overtones of sexual and chemical experimentation in an age of residual innocence suit this familiar work well.

As can sometimes be the case with student performances, we have a rather uneven cast here, several of whom shine brightly, while others still seem self-conscious on stage. Musical director Diego Masson presides over all with keen attention, picking out all the details of Britten’s score, sculpting alternatively rich and sharp sounds from an orchestra in fine fettle, and instantly reassuring the occasional nervous performer glancing across the stage at Musson to check their timing. While we have some fine singing (and some not quite so fine), the orchestra is a treat throughout.  

Cordelia Chisholm’s clean, hard set, made luscious with velvet, lamé and mirrorball, gives a nicely unspecific setting, more an evocation of mood than a depiction of place. After all, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is all about getting lost, in the woods, in the dark, even in emotions; this placelessness feels ideal. A single tree in a silver bucket indicates the forest, while helium balloons on ribbons suggest tall plants around Tytania’s fairy bower. Chisholm’s costumes strongly reference the 1970s: platform heels, leather jackets and tight corduroy trousers contrast with sharp grey suits for the nobler mortal characters, while the fairies glitter and sparkle in disco gear. Oberon reaches near-Bowie levels of magnificence in a feather-fringed fur coat, PVC trousers and glam rock makeup, while Tytania shimmers in a pink evening gown and boa worthy of any cabaret diva.

The absolute highlight of the whole show has to be the Mechanicals, led by Jonny Davies as a gloriously bumptious, red-blooded Bottom. With a supple, clear baritone and immediate stage presence, Davies plays Bottom as an unrestrainable Jack-the-Lad, appealing for his sheer bravado, but also in his earnest desire to be part of everything around him. Benjamin Clark is sweet-voiced and superb as Flute, the part-drag role Britten wrote for his lover Peter Pears. Flute’s horror at being forced to play the lady Thisbe is a joy to behold, as is his secret, creeping sense of enjoyment (we sense, to his own shock: in a sensitive and intelligent performance, Clark shows Flute as a man in the process of discovering himself on stage, increasingly frightened and elated by what he finds). Another thoughtful portrayal of slowly-blossoming manhood comes from Jon Shaw as Snug, the daintiest of Lions with a warm bass, who we see losing himself in the final, joyous Bergomask like a tipsy uncle at a wedding: we are left with the strong impression these workmen will never be the same again. Anastasios Michalis is a little subdued as Quince, while Lewis Raines and Caspar Lloyd James are highly entertaining as Snout and Starveling respectively.

Luke Faber looks fabulous as Oberon, and gives a well-judged performance in which his acting hits the mark, but his voice occasionally ebbs in power. Daniele Nastri is a glamourous and sultry Tytania, the cabaret tint to her whole approach suiting her arias, and role, exceptionally well.

Charlotte Richardson’s fresh charm makes for a graceful, likeable Helena: of all the mortals, Richardson is the most natural on stage, sounding crisply clear. Benjamin Ellis shows us a suitably snarling, aggressive Demetrius. Guy Elliott gives a smooth, confident performance as an attractive Lysander, his tenor seemingly custom-designed for Britten, articulating and projecting with perfect clarity. Beth Archer, as Hermia, absolutely comes into her own when angry with Helena, but elsewhere swallows her words with nerves.

Zara Fyfe’s relentless brassy glee as Puck begins to grate very quickly, missing most of his depth and interest. Of the rather gawky fairy troupe, whose wispy and unimaginative choreography seems to have come straight from an ancient Joyce Grenfell skit, only Anna McLachlan conveys a sense of true otherness, watching the foolishness of mortals, mechanicals and monarchs with unnerving faery calm. Her companions, unfortunately, focus constantly on the audience and each other, pouting and preening as if in a pop video: first night nerves may well have been to blame, but their antics can pull this otherwise interesting performance down to the realms of the school sixth-form play. Their singing, while harmonious, is the most formless of all: ne’er a consonant reached my straining ear. With Britten, who sets the English language to music with unrivalled mastery, this is inexcusable: particularly when the words themselves are Shakespeare’s.