If you think Shakespeare is only for the high brow, I would wish you, I would request you, I would entreat you to think again.
Theatre iNQ’s opening performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream proved the Bard’s work is still ripe for modern interpretation and Director Terri Brabon and her talented team have spared no liberty in making this fabulous play their own.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s best-loved comedies, following the “love-rectangle” of four young lovers – Hermia, Helena, Lysander and Demetrius – as they vie for one another’s affections, helped along by the mischievous meddling of Puck, messenger to Oberon, King of the Fairies. As Hermia and Lysander (Paris Walsh and Badaidilaga Maftuh-Flynn) attempt to flee Athens, where they will be free to wed, Demetirus (Michael Gleeson) follows in pursuit of his unrequited love for Hermia, with Helena (Rachel Nutchey) desperately chasing Demetrius’ affection. As Oberon (Phil Lambert) and The Fairy Queen Titania (Terri Brabon) continue a long-line of dispute, Puck (Brendan O’Connor) seizes the opportunity to entertain himself by causing both Lysander and Demetrius to fall in love with Helena, and Titania to become enamored with Bottom the Weaver (John Goodson), a tradie-turned-thespian who is rehearsing in the woods with his lovable troupe of actors. Naturally, hilarity ensues.
I was surprised to hear that this is the first time Theatre iNQ has performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream. With much of the story set in the woods – and with the narrative being much easier to follow than some of Shakespeare’s heavier works – it seems an obvious choice for the Company’s annual Shakespeare Under the Stars, traditionally performed in the beautiful setting of Queens Gardens. However, Terri explained that she had been waiting for the “right” young cast to play the four lovers; and her decision to do so has paid off in spades.
Rachel Nutchey is brilliant as Helena – pitifully and unapologetically desperate for Demetrius’ love – a real “stage 5 clinger”. Rachel elicits an equal mix of laughs and cringes from the audience as she gives chase, then later refuses to believe that both young men could stoop so low as to mockingly love her. Michael Gleeson matches Rachel’s diversity in the role of Demetrius – beginning as a strong and well-conducted young bachelor and later resorting to shrill cries of frustration as he tries to break from the clutches of Helena. I always enjoy Michael’s performances and this was certainly no exception. Paris Walsh and Badaidilaga Muftah-Flynn bring a beautiful light and shade to Hermia and Lysander that I haven’t seen in previous renditions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Badaidilaga brings a certain cheekiness to Lysander as he eagerly tries to convince Hermia to sleep next to him in the woods; and Paris returns this with a more headstrong refusal than I have seen from other actresses in the same role. When Hermia wakes in Act 2 to find Lysander gone, we see how Paris’ interpretation of the character is perhaps a smarter, more conniving take on the character than a simple ‘damsel in distress’; it’s a refreshing approach.
While there were a few times when the young lovers scenes tended to descend into shrill hysterics as they quarreled over who truly loved whom, and more; the young foursome was outstanding.
So too were the more experienced actors. Company Professionals Terri Brabon and Brendan O’Connor were (as expected) terrific. As Puck, Brendan was able to bring his unique brand of wit and physical comedy to the fore; and I doubt very much there was an audience member who hadn’t gasped for breath between laughs as Brendan injected the character with clever pop-culture references and crude humour. Terri was radiant: Love-struck. Commanding. Sexy. Terri made Titania a true force to be reckoned with and, with a few surprises along the way, created a contemporary Fairy Queen deserving of the crown. Opposite Terri, John Goodson was the perfect Bottom. From the moment we first meet him as the obnoxious actor eager to hoard all the good parts for himself; to the very end where, well… little has changed really, Bottom is a true ego-maniac, but in such a lovable fashion he is easy to forgive.
For me, the stand-out performances come from the unexpected players – Byron Howells as Francis Flute (also Thisbee); Robert Street as Peter Quince (also The Moon) and Sally McCutcheon as Egeus. Just as you might think the performance is over, we are treated to a play within a play, as Bottom and his troupe of actors finally get to perform the piece they’ve been rehearsing. As you might expect from a bunch of labourers performing a show that they have rehearsed just once (if you could even count it as a rehearsal), the performance is patchy. I won’t give too much away here but Byron, Robert and Sally really shine in this final scene and are deserving of special mention.
The technical team has really brought the magic to the staging of this show; utilising the natural setting and sounds of Queens Gardens to amplify their own set, lighting effects and soundtrack. Two monstrous trees envelop the audience and the set, so it really does feel like the whole evening takes place in a clearing within a much denser wood than the Gardens actually provide. Recorded soundscapes mix beautifully with the cries of curlews and the chatter of bats to create a richly textured experience; and audiences of all ages will love the musical direction that this show takes. Be prepared for some serious fun.
Whether you are a long-time fan of Shakespeare’s work, or whether you’re a total new-comer I urge you to get tickets to this show. It’s a great ‘gateway play’ for first-time Shakespeare attendees and, with the option to buy dinner tickets or pack your own picnic, it’s a really fun night out.
Theatre iNQ will stage A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Queens Gardens until 24 September 2017. For tickets, visit the Theatre iNQ website.