A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond-upon-Thames
An energetic, magical comedy" would perhaps be a good subtitle for this excellently prepared production for primary pupils. Before coming to the theatre, each school is visited by a workshop leader. So the children arrive with the story firmly fixed in their heads and a good idea of what they may find themselves doing on stage.
There was energy aplenty at the first performance. The day was hot and humid and a late-arriving bus had kept most of the children waiting in the foyer before all 183 of them - from four different schools - were expertly crowded into the Orange Tree's small, comfortable wooden square.
The production burned off the pupils' excess energy with ease. They made the sounds of the forest fortissimo and then pianissimo, ready-costumed fairies leapt out from the audience at the right moment, and a human wall and a lamplighter were put to unselfconscious use in the play-within-a-play.
This Dream runs for an hour and it is imaginatively staged - players clamber up ladders to the theatre's slender balcony and slide down a rope with aplomb. The costumes are simple and colourful - and also well-differentiated, which is important as the four actors double, treble and even quadruple their roles.
Director Tim Sheader has created some subtle as well as energetic ensemble movement and the performers are enjoyably versatile. Kathleen McGoldrick was a blessedly normal Puck, Clare McCarron a charming and gymnastic Helena, John Marquez a kingly Oberon, and Jason Baughan a skilful and crowd-pleasing Bottom.
At the first performance, the pace was hectic - probably too frantic in the mechanicals' scenes, where there was a bit too much rustic stamping about and shouting - even for 10 year-olds, I suspect.
But this will probably settle and thousands of children will be able to enjoy more ingenious, live magic on a midsummer's day out from school.
This is the 15th year that the Orange Tree has borne educational fruit. And next year's crop of three schools' productions is already germinating.
Weekdays at 10.30am and 1.30pm until July 4. Extra family performance on June 28 at 11am. Box office: 0181 940 3633.