30
Nov
11

a midsummer night’s dream – usq alumni theatre

Colourful, highly physical and mostly funny, the USQ Theatre Alumni’s inaugural production, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is bringing Roma Street Parkland to life for another week.

Shakespeare in the Park Festival, Toowoomba

My little family needed no encouragement to prepare a picnic and set up on the grass steps of the amphitheatre, a venue that begs greater use by Brisbane theatre companies. The last production we enjoyed there was Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble’s Twelfth Night, when Poppy was still in a pram. That’s not to say the place has stood unused since then, it’s just that when one drives from the Sunshine Coast for an outdoor performance, one must consider the weather forecast. As it happened, I had arranged to see the show Thursday night. The day was windy and rainy and the night sky was looking ominous. We decided to see the show on Friday night, under clearer skies, consequently missing Zen Zen Zo’s show in Montville (much closer to home)!

Scott Alderdice has in parts, cleverly directed this Dream. Terrific, fun physical comedy supports the text between the lovers particularly and the use of scaffold and some of the pop music (some of it was repetitive or just too much) allows for vibrant energy and pure joy, most noticeable in the energetic, well rehearsed dance routines (choreography by Christine Strahan with Fight Choreography by Nigel Poulton).

Fairies and lovers are clad in tattered, layered costumes, boasting rich colour and texture, in contrast to the set, which is a simple matter of three scaffold towers on castors and two enormous white flowers in lieu of a cyc (DesignerCarolyn Taylor-Smith). There are two lighting credits in the program, Ben Andrews (Lighting Designer) and Keith Clark (Lighting Realiser) and whilst we enjoy some pretty effects, what is not realised is the need for more light on actors’ faces.

Kate Murphy & Matthew Walsh. Photography by Damian Herd

Within this company there are, as in any newly formed group, some standouts and some bad habits displayed very well by other members. The bad habits surprise me. A leading institution known (among other things) for its vocal work, is letting its Alumni mutter and then shout their lines? I think not. I think inexperience is evident in a few delivery issues and I hope these will be remedied when performers remember that volume does not equate to energy levels. In short, I expect to clearly hear The Bard’s words next time!

On that – and I’m ready to duck for cover – are we really still needing every word? Is it time we put Shakespeare under the knife? A good Dramaturg could certainly give it a go (and then there’s Short + Sweet Shakespeare but more of that later)! It might be that, like David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Rabbit Hole, adapted for the screen by the playwright, there is simply an alternative way to get the story across. It’s just an example – it came immediately to mind, having talked about it with someone recently – because structurally, the story probably works better as it unfolds in the film. But rather than major structural change, A Midsummer Night’s Dream might just need a few clever cuts. It’s just a thought remember…purists; you may throw at me whatever is nearest!

Hannah Ellis & Lucy Reed. Photography by Damian Herd

Most impressive is Matthew Walsh, as Lysander, full of spritely energy that could just as easily transfer to the role of Puck or to that of a Mechanical. But Lysander he is and as the young lover, he gives us fresh-faced determined and cheeky love that knows no bounds. The running fight that occurs with Demetrius (Ben Rigby/Christopher Hunter) is hilarious – it always reminds me of the fight scenes in Bridget Jones and so I don’t mind telling you that I actually expected, in this semi-contemporary version, to hear, stopping and starting, The Darkness screeching I Believe in a Thing Called Love or Gerri Halliwell belting out It’s Raining Men!

Demetrius and the girls – Helena (Emily Curtain) and Hermia (Kate Murphy) – take a little while to warm up but when they do, Act 2 belongs to The Lovers. Helena, suitably tall and gangly, and Hermia, appropriately puppet-like in her costume and makeup, eventually establish together, a wonderful BFF relationship. Curtain’s comedic talent particularly, is showcased in this role.

Shannon Haegler, Kate Murphy, Matthew Walsh, Sasha Janowicz. Photography by Damian Herd

Titania (Lauren O’Rourke) is absolutely beautiful in her faery gowns, moving gracefully and singing strongly at first but leaning towards the pitchy end of the spectrum as she grows tired by the end of a particularly big musical number early in the show – too big – and it seems a shame to show us so much, rather than just a taste, like getting to know somebody too well or getting an honest response to the daily query, “How ARE you?” Certainly, when we see a show, we want to see “show fit” performers (and, as performers, we aspire to it; in fact, there is a performing arts school currently auditioning down south that has built itself upon the whole “show fit” triple-threat premise). Perhaps, in this case, the demands were a little too high. Having said that, O’Rourke is an absolute treat to watch (I love her spoken work and her mannerisms, as self-assured in the role of Hippolyta as she is in that of the Faery Queen). She is well matched with her Oberon (Sasha Janowicz). Janowicz has the most commanding presence on stage and as Theseus, his vocal skill and posture give us clear indication of the proud, authoritarian Athenian. But in the forest, I always feel Oberon must be omnipresent and when he is not, I wonder what he is up to! This is no criticism of Janowicz’s work, which is by far the most competent, but an observation of the choices made by the director and an ever-present thought about how much of the original work do we honour in a production? Again, is it a question of staying faithful to the text (and, in this case, what we can only guess might be the intent of the playwright) or do we imagine those moments in between and simply make up a little more of it?!

Lauren O'Rourke & Sasha Janowicz. Photography by Damian Herd

Puck should be a little monkey-friend/pet/servant, loyal and attentive to the point of annoyance but more often than not, there is no physical or emotional bond between he/she and his/her master. Or not enough. To me, they are the puppeteers and too often are dealt with as separate entities, despite having wonderful dialogue together and, as is the case in this production, some very clever and well punctuated, physical comedy; Oberon gesturing to lasso and draw Puck (Hannah Ellis) to him, Puck choking and spluttering as the imaginary rope tightens around her neck. The relationship on stage could benefit from even more play, as master and chief mischief-maker. A bit like Shrek and Donkey. Seriously!

Hannah Ellis & Sasha Janowicz. Photography by Damian Herd

This is mostly a really lovely production and there is potential for this company to make its mark on Queensland theatre and on our slight obsession with Outdoor Shakespeare. But the next collective need to narrow their focus and decide what it is they want the company (or at least, the next production) to be. What “sort” of Shakespeare is it? I don’t mind if it’s a different mode and style of delivery every time – I love it all – but it needs to be clear, and confident enough in its own skin so that we feel comfortable too, for two or three hours in the world created by these Athenians and magical creatures.

This review published originally on briztix.com

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