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Urban magic on the Bottom line

A Midsummer Night's Dream, William Shakespeare, Compass touring theatre company, Various venues. Compass, the exuberant Sheffield-based touring company founded back in 1981, has achieved the extraordinary feat of transforming A Midsummer Night's Dream from a pastoral fantasy to a contemporary urban comedy while retaining the full poetry of Shakespeare's word.

Although Athens is virtually reduced to a bridal boutique ("Conjugal Rites Weddings Inc") and the wood is a junk yard, the eight actors, who double up for parts of the play, manage to use these unlikely settings to enforce and clarify the magic of their lines.

This achievement is enhanced by the great gulf between the wretched confusions of the four lovers and the puzzled blunderings of "the rude mechanicals", played by the same actors, as employees of Conjugal Rites.

Both are in contrast to the aloof majesty of TheseusOberon and HippolytaTitania, portrayed by Richard Heap and Jane Montgomery with a proud stance that sets them apart from the rest of the cast. Michael Glen Murphy as Puck is a skinny, astonishingly athletic tramp, a good foil to Nick Chadwin's solid, amiable, self-important Bottom. There is no attempt to embody the fairies other than by conjuring them out of the air by the magic of the words and Titania's eerie, other-worldly stance.

The great strength of this production lies in the characterisation of the four lovers. Demetrius (David Westbrook) is a dry, clerkly figure in sharp contrast to a ponytailed Lysander (James Nightingale), equipped with a bulging backpack for his flight with Hermia. Annelies Lovell plays that part with the naive, child-like trust of an Alice in Wonderland.

It is Katherine Dow Blyton as Helena, however, who has the most memorable comic talent. The humour lies in her beautifully contrived gawky physical presentation set off by a puzzled intelligence, which engages first our laughter and then our sympathy.

A tour of England and Wales finishes in June 1995. From February the company will also be touring a production of Woyzeck by Georg Buchner.

Running time two hours 46 minutes, with interval. For information on the list of venues from now until June, contact Compass on 0742 755328.

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