Tim Hughes is blown away by the talent on show at an Oxford University production of Henry Purcell & William Shakespeare's mid-summer classic

In this year of Shakespeare, commemorating the 400th anniversary of his death, have we yet reached peak Bard?

It is certainly starting to feel like that. So well done to the Oxford Playhouse for leavening the mix with a work which takes one of the playwright’s greatest works – but throws in oodles of exquisite song and dance.

The Fairy Queen is Henry Purcell’s operatic reworking of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and this delight, staged by University of Oxford Student Company: Theatron Novum is a dream itself. 

Any thoughts of endearing amateurism are blown instantly out of the water by a stellar cast of actors, singers and dancers, many combining their ambidextrous multiple talents. As a fun re-telling of the tale of Titania, Oberon et al in the woods, it is a comic triumph; as a piece of sung opera it is ethereally beautiful; as a piece of ballet it is spellbinding.

Wonderfully produced by New College undergrad Jasmine White and directed by opera-singing DPhil student Dionysios Kyropoulos, the plot is skeletal – a simple tale of love, envy and enchantment – setting the stage for sublime ‘masques’.

The list of actors, singers and dancers extends to several pages in the programme, and to single anyone out does a disservice to the others, though Puck (first year Hertford English student Georgie Murphy) and Bottom (second year Brasenose historian Gregory Coates) lapped up some thunderous applause and deserve a mention, along with dancers Marta Arnaldi, Daisy Porter and Alex Stoffel.

The simple fact is this is a triumph which had us on the edge of our seats, laughing, sighing, admiring and (jealously) wondering how performers so young could be so talented. What futures they have!

To borrow from another of the Bard’s works, “Oh, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in ‘t!”