A Midsummer Night’s Dream (shake & stir theatre company)
Judith Wright Centre, Performance Space
January 21 – 22
It is often said that the lighthearted “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is Shakespeare’s most humorous play, which makes it a fitting choice for a youth production such as that of the 2015 Qld Youth Shakes Fest finalists. The multi-arts romantic comedy, which features 35 of the state’s creative youth, follows an abridged account of the rendezvous of four young lovers and a group of actors and their interactions with forest fairies and a duke and duchess. With a story also featuring a fairy king and queen, star-crossed lovers, wood sprites and, of course, the half-donkey Bottom, it is a fantastic ensemble piece so well suited to the context.
The young performers all show a command of the text and skill in the demanding roles. Although there is little character development in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and no true protagonist, Meg Fraser leads the group as disobedient daughter Hermia, exhibiting captivating control of a gamut of emotions. As her frienemy Helena, Sarina Bakker is, by contrast, gleefully manic in her feisty and fanatical unrequited passion for Demetrius (Bryson Morris-McGuire), with much of the production’s initial humour coming from her chase of him and his response to her mania.
Although characterisation sometimes slips in the stereotypes courtesy of its modernisation, performers all convey a passion that will hopeful develop in subtlety as their stage presence is crafted. And while the scene where couples fight over who loves who, under the spell of mischievous fairy Puck’s misplaced love potion drags a little, it is a perfect vehicle to showcase the performers’ physicality.
Beyond just the appearance of anarchy, hilarity comes from many places, including the requisite Shakespearean play-within-a-play story of Pyramus and Thisbe that occupies much of the final act. The bumbling, melodramatic satire not only gives the play a joyful conclusion, but offers opportunity to showcase some wonderful comic timing from a meek lion finally given chance to roar and a very funny wall… not just any wall, but the kind of wall that has a little hole in it through which the lovers whisper in secret. It is the type of comedy easily able to be appreciated by Bard newbies without intimate knowledge of the show’s sometimes complicated, interconnected narratives.
In response to Shakespeare’s vivid, poetic evocation of setting, the production, which was created in just under a week, uses a somewhat simple but impressive installation of 1.3km of perfect paper chain to add texture and depth to Cameron Goerg’s lighting design (kind of like the chain backdrop used in David Tennant’s “Richard II” at London’s Barbican Theatre).
Accompanied by a dynamic soundscape and some melancholic moments of live music and song, this allows for smooth transition through the moods of the forest’s magic and morning dawn contrasts. And simple and inventive props are punctuated by clever little touches of detail, like foolish Bottom’s (Gerick Leota Thomsen) ‘bad ass’ cap.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” has long been one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies and at the hands of director Ross Balbuziente, this production resonates in celebration of this appeal. Crafted with humour, inventiveness and flair, it is a pleasure-filled interpretation of a centuries-old work that can clearly still be accessible and exciting.