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Friday, 23 March, 2001, 13:08 GMT
Dawn French's Bottom makes debut
Actress Dawn French as Bottom in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream
Dawn French: Made Shakespearian debut
Comedienne Dawn French has been well-received by critics on her opening night as Bottom in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The production, which locates the action in a 1940s English manor house, was performed in London's West End on Thursday.

It was French's Shakespearian debut after becoming famous for her comic parts in hit television shows including French and Saunders and The Vicar of Dibley.

I'm very proud of Dawn's Bottom - I always have been.

Jennifer Saunders
And reviews in Friday morning's press generally agree that she succeeded in injecting some of her overt humour into the part, with most critics deciding the production was a hit.

The Independent's theatre critic Paul Taylor described French as "hilariously bumptious", and said that she "bulldozed" her way past the contradictions arising from the wartime setting and the fact that Bottom is normally a male character.

"When translated into a donkey with shaggy legs, she's appalled to discover not only ears but a suggestive tuft between her legs, an appendage that it clearly quite a strain to keep down," he added.

The Daily Telegraph's Charles Spencer described the show as "infectiously funny and genuinely magical".

"French is fine and the production is even better, unashamedly crowd-pleasing but also true to the spirit of Shakespeare's great comedy."

Actress Dawn French as Bottom in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream
French stars in the play until 12 May
And Benedict Nightingale wrote in The Times that French's performance was: "funnier and jollier than many of the male actors I've seen in the role."

"But French's presence has shaped and, I feel, somewhat misshaped the production," he continued.

However the Guardian's Michael Billington was no more than luke-warm, admitting that he was "in two minds".

'Whimsically odd'

"Dawn French, though a big draw, is not the greatest Bottom I've seen," he wrote. "She strikes me as no more than mildly funny."

He also described the setting of the play in a 1940s manor house as "whimsically odd".

French's celebrity fans and friends who saw the first night performance were more charitable.

Her comedy partner Jennifer Saunders said the show was "fabulous". "I was crying with laughter. The whole cast is wonderful, and it is so funny."

She added: "I'm very proud of Dawn's bottom. I always have been."

Jazz musician and television presenter Jools Holland went one step further by saying on his way out of the theatre: "Dawn French is the greatest British comic actress, if not the greatest world actress that we have here on earth."

The production also stars Jemma Redgrave and Michael Siberry, and is running at the Albery Theatre until 12 May.

BBC News Online's Riz Lateef
"One of the most popular comics"
See also:

11 Aug 99 | Entertainment
French and Saunders head autumn season
19 Jul 99 | Entertainment
Lenny and Dawn: still a double act
28 Apr 99 | Entertainment
Plenty of praise for Cate
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