Director Gary Sefton’s gloriously inventive productions for Northampton's Royal & Derngate of the comic novels Travels With My Aunt and Diary of a Nobody are now followed by his masterly and consistently rib-tickling take on what is widely considered to be Shakespeare’s funniest play.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with its plethora of well-observed comic characters, offers relentless hilarity in their antics. Sefton and his versatile cast deliver the goods in all three of the play’s most famous episodes: the love scene between Titania and the ass-headed Bottom, the fall-out of the quartet of young lovers following Puck’s misapplication of the love potion and the mechanicals’ appalling production of Pyramus and Thisbe.

With only eight actors on the stage (plus a talented team of youngsters to play the fairies) there is, of course, a doubling of roles. This necessarily extends beyond the usual ones of Theseus/Oberon and Hippolyta/Titania, rulers respectively of the Athenian and fairy realms, who are presented in equal dignity by Silas Carson and Amy Robbins.

Colin Ryan, grinning widely as he goes about his mischievous business as Puck, also plays the Athenian court’s snooty and punctilious master of revels Philostrate, while Joe Alessi is both an hilarious Bottom (with a fully functioning bottom, we discover) and a pompous Egeus, outraged at the disobedience of daughter Hermia (Naomi Sheldon) in the matter of her love life.

While dad has her marked out for Demetrius (Charlie Archer), who is utterly contemptuous of the doting attentions of Helena (Frances McNamee), she is head-over-heels for Lysander (Oliver Gomm), and he for her.

The Edwardian country house setting of this production, reflected in the staircases and wide windows of Ti Green’s abstract designs and Jon Nicholls’ catchy band music, gives opportunity for fun involving costumes. The underwear of the period, thanks to saucy postcards and flickering silent movies, comes freighted with comic associations. When tuggings and tearings begin during the youngsters’ ructions, we watch through tears of laughter as frilly knickers appear and the boys are stripped down to – and briefly beyond – their droopy long-johns.


Until May 11. Box office: 01604 624811,