This production of William Shakespeare’s fun and classic comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is directed by Glenn Elston and produced by Ashley Groenen and Kaspa Elston, with choreography by Sue-Ellen Shook and musical direction by Paul Norton. It is a compelling and dramatic take on the play which explores the complexities of the characters’ relationships as well as bringing out its well-known humour.
As usual it takes place in the Royal Botanic Gardens. This is the twenty-fifth anniversary production. If you don’t want to fight for a park on Birdwood Avenue, or if you are going by public transport, it’s a pleasant walk past the Shrine of Remembrance. There are not many signs pointing you to where it is, so keep an eye out.
When I arrived early I found it was a laid-back affair with a picnic atmosphere. After we’d been sweltering through a heat wave for four days the cool change was due to come that very night. There was not so much hope as apprehension for coming rain. It could have meant cancellation of the performance! The rain came and bucketed down. It only lasted for a very short time, however, and the show went smoothly.
The story, set in Athens, is very well-known. Basically Hermia is pressured by her father Egeus and Theseus, Duke of Athens, to marry Demetrius. Instead she flees into the forest with her lover Lysander. Her friend Helena, hurt that Demetrius no longer loves her because of Hermia, encourages Demetrius to run after the young couple and kill Lysander. Helena follows him, lovelorn. The pitying fairies endeavour to apply love juice to Demetrius’ eyes to make him fall in love with Helena, but apply it to Lysander by mistake. Lysander leaves Hermia and the two men fight over Helena, who believes both are mocking her.
Meanwhile a troupe of craftsmen, The Mechanicals, who are pursuing acting careers,
are rehearsing in the forest. They are oblivious to the presence of Oberon, king of the fairies, who has his own relationship troubles. He seeks to punish his wife Titania over a quarrel by enchanting her to fall in love with the first creature she sees on waking. That turns out to be bumbling actor Nick Bottom who is enchanted himself with an ass’s head.
Charlie Sturgeon as Theseus and Mia Landgren as Hermia made a stunning start to the story’s drama. Sturgeon was strong and fierce as Theseus, and Landgren was passionate throughout as Hermia, bringing out her romanticism and vulnerability. Helena is much less straightforward. Madeleine Field evoked the chaos and complexity of the moody, tormented girl.
The two young girls, friends all through childhood, have a highly volatile relationship now they are facing love rivalry and on the brink of adulthood. The pathos was brought out very sweetly, as one moment they were having a catfight and the next pleading. Scott Jackson and Otis Elston as Demetrius and Lysander, the men of their choice, were great counterpoints to the girls. They gave the most lighthearted performances. Wearing contemporary costumes, they portrayed irresponsible youths who had a bit of growing up to do.
The Mechanicals came on very much in character with their labourers’ vibe. Their props were gorgeous- little wagons that they wheeled on with the tools of their various trades, such as tinker and carpenter. They were very enthusiastic in their comedy roles, particularly Simon Mallory as awkward weaver Bottom who looks ridiculous when he tries to follow his ambitions, and Anthony Rive as Francis Flute, who camply plays the female lead in the troupe’s production “Pyramus and Thisbe.” Then there was the other part of the play- the fairies.
The mystery of the fey realm was captured so well. The fairies included Arky Elston, who was satyr-like and masculine as Puck. Then there was Madeleine Field as Peaseblossom, Tamika Ball as Cobweb, Claire Nicholls as Moth and Mia Landgren as Mustardseed, with Liam DeJong as an Acrobat Fairy. Their king and queen, Oberon and Titania, evoked in their demeanour the majesty of Ancient Greece. The rage and flashes of tenderness between Oberon and Titania, the fairy king and queen who have a difficult marriage, were movingly portrayed. Shireen Morris was assertive and exotic in the role of Titania, and Charlie Sturgeon dignified noble as Oberon.
The production was at its best in the scenes portraying the fairies. The pretty candy lighting by Peter Amesbury, and the delicate sound effects by Shaye Davitt, contributed to sequences that were sometimes awesomely beautiful. The production perfectly altered mood and vibe as contrasting characters were introduced. The choreography had a light, graceful and natural touch, as the fairies, who showcased a lot of acrobatic and ballet skills, tumbled across the stage.
The set and props were minimal. The real props were in the natural world around us. The mercurial outdoor setting was suitable for a play which takes place mainly in a forest. While a prop moon was held up on a stick in the play within a play “Pyramus and Thisbe,” the real moon gleamed through clouds. Moths fluttered in the lights, the winds swept us, and bats flew overhead. It enhanced the feel of the forest where the fairies romp and the lovers shelter
The costumes had a casualness and ease about them. There was a lot of flowing fabric. After all, this is in Ancient Greece. It was a windy night, and these fabrics looked great in the billowing wind. They were soft, natural and not too elaborate. I was glad they used a lot of green for the fairies, because that is indeed the colour of the fairies in folklore.
Overall it was a stunning outdoor production with attentive front of house staff (which is a must in an unpredictable natural setting) and a very high standard from both cast and crew. If Shakespeare with contemporary references is your taste, with extra song and dance thrown in, this could be a very enjoyable night for you.