Posts Tagged ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream

17
May
18

Midsummers At The Lake

 

Midsummers At the Lake

Little Seed Theatre Company

Noosa Botanic Gardens Amphitheatre

May 12-13 & May 19-20 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

 

Little Seed Theatre Company, founded and directed by Johanna Wallace, continues to go from strength to strength, with this outdoor production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Anywhere Theatre Festival showcasing a couple of talented young performers in particular, largely due to great casting.

 

Admittedly, we experience this production in a slightly more traditional theatrical setting, and while Shakespeare in the park has its merits, when we add an immense body of water as the backdrop and frame the action with an amphitheatre inspired by ancient Greek design and gifted to the community, lakeside Shakespeare becomes the best sort. If you’ve never ventured out to this venue, here’s the perfect opportunity.

 

 

A light-hearted and entertaining production, this Dream features the comic talents of Oscar Long (Peter Quince), Luka Burgess (Nick Bottom) and QACI graduate, Alex Cox (Demetrius); each has a terrific sense of themselves in the open air space, a knack for slapstick and natural comic timing. Burgess in particular knows how to play the audience and as a result, he basically steals the show. The Mechanicals work energetically together, retaining their individual characterisations and appearing as a tight-knit ensemble at the same time, bouncing off one another (and into each other!) to the delight of the audience. Their play-within-the-play and the rehearsal scenes leading up to it could easily be considered a touring entity, and wouldn’t it be terrific for someone to sponsor such an opportunity for these enthusiastic young performers?

 

 

 

Nathaniel Knight (light on his feet without losing any of the weight of authority as Oberon) and Jack Miller (a lovely, lively Puck) embrace the same sense of spontaneity and mischief, and at times we see this in the Lovers too. Cox and Emily Potts (Helena) share some beautifully awkward moments. The over-the-top Potts also plays well with fourteen-year-old Virgo Nash (Hermia), who offers a surprisingly mature performance for one so young. In fact, it’s worth noting that as challenging as Shakespeare’s text and themes tend to be, there’s certainly a solid understanding of the play here, and only rarely do we miss a phrase. Some of the youngest members of this company have some vocal work to do, but if more mature performers such as Harper Ramsey (a firm, fair and distinguished Theseus) and Ayla Long (a stern Hippolyta and a playful fairy) are any indication of Little Seed’s training over the years, this too will come. 

 

 

A soundscape and a series of original songs by Heather Groves in collaboration with her musicians perfectly underscores the action, punctuates comical moments and sustains the magical mood, established early, when the fairies enter the amphitheatre from all directions. We’ve only seen this musical aspect of Shakespeare’s comedies bettered by Tim Finn, for Queensland Theatre’s Twelfth Night. I hope Groves continues this tradition and also, that other Sunshine Coast companies can feel inspired to make the effort to involve live musicians in their productions too; far too often now we lament aspiring and accomplished performers having to learn and perform their songs to click tracks, making the production cheaper to produce and often sounding cheaper and less professional as a result.

 

Little Seed creates a gorgeous atmosphere, using live music, and energetic and enthusiastic performers within the beautiful natural setting of the Noosa Botanic Gardens and amphitheatre, delivering a wonderful production of one of Shakespeare’s most loved plays.

 

 

 

21
Sep
16

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Lyric Hammersmith and Filter Theatre

QPAC Playhouse

September 9 – 17 2016

 

Reviewed by Meredith Walker

 

midsummer-oberon

It is a rare thing to be an hour into a show and still have no idea at all where it is going to go. And in the case of Filter Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this is a very good thing, given the absurdity with which the group has taken what is arguably Shakespeare’s most popular play and transformed it into a giddy and gleeful postmodern romp.

That said, it does start a little slowly with, like so many Shakespearean works, a prologue, delivered with true Irish charm, but of frantic pace by Peter Quince (Ed Gaughan). Drifting into tangents about the Royal family, for example, he tells audience members that they are about to enter the Ancient Athens of ‘fantastic architecture and thriving homosexual culture’. He promises that the part of Bottom is meant to be played by a famous actor, but a technical hitch means that an ‘audience volunteer’ may have assume the role. It is all in keeping with the clumsy craft of the play’s Mechanicals’ amateur dramatics, and, as the curtain rises on the Athenian court, Shakespeare’s society is represented in the play by three distinct class groups, lovers, mechanicals and fairies. A series of mix-ups orchestrated by king of the fairies Oberon (Harry Jardine) causes lovers’ quarrels between Lysander and Hermia, Demetrius and Helena, frantic chases and general chaos that needs to be resolved before King Theseus’s fast approaching wedding.

What the audience sees, however, is no ethereal forest setting, with set design placing the action within a run-down public bathroom of white tiles, water leaks and paper-walls through which characters literally burst on to the stage. Staging is chaotically creative as pieces are destroyed and as Puck (Ferdy Roberts) flings blue liquid gel love juice around, to instant aphrodisiac effect. Oberon, dressed as superhero in all-in-one suit and cape, flies, falls and is covered in flour as part of an epic food fight (with audience involvement). Rather than unruliness, this makes for a hilarious experience that flies by without realisation of its near two hour duration. It’s not all froth and frivolous bubble, however, for as contrast to the mania of the Mechanicals, the lovers, speak only Shakespeare’s words.

midsummer-love-juice

This is a high-energy and physically-demanding show and all the performers deliver accordingly. Francesca Zoutewelle is solid as Hermia, Cat Simmons is an initially dignified Titania and John Lightbody is sensationally smooth as the lustful Lysander, once transformed entirely from his former unassuming self in reaction to the love potion. And Demetrious (Karl Queensborough) makes music out of the Bard’s iambic pentameter. Another standout is Ferdy Roberts as grumpy, tattooed and mischievous rocker roadie/stagehand Puck, from his commanding entrance to the dignified delivery of his final wishes of good night unto all. And Fergus O’Donnell makes the scripted chaos of Bottom’s ascension to stage seem spontaneously improvised. Together, they provide a refreshing interpretation of the characters.

Despite its anarchy, in many ways, this A Midsummer Night’s Dream keeps with Shakespeare’s original text though its weave of comedy through all three of the plot strands and, in particular through the ridiculous mirth of the working class Mechanicals and their presentation to the audience of an abbreviated Pyramus and Thisbe, making us laugh at them rather than with them, in a way different to many other of Shakespeare’s jesters and clowns.

Every comic device is evident in this fast-moving funny-fest. There are moments of stand-up (showing that apparently 20 years is in fact too soon for a Michael Hutchence suicide joke), celebrity impersonations, spontaneous songs, slapstick, clowning and innuendo. The greatest laughs come, however, from notice of the little details, like the lameness of a lion costume and Oberon and Puck’s pull up of picnic chairs and crack open of drinks to watch the lovers battle it out.

Filter Theatre have made their reputation mainly for inventive takes on classic plays and this is especially evident in their sound innovation, and Chris Branch and Tom Haines’s sound design and original music is masterful . Music is effectively integrated into this production and the live band, doubling as Mechanicals, in break from their play of retro kitsch Barry White and The Ramones numbers, add the necessary magic to assist the audience in imagining the invisible fairies to life and suggesting Bottom’s transition to donkey by the sounds of coconut-shell hooves clapping. And a fight between Lysander and Demetrius is enacted as a video game, with Puck at the console, with the noise of gunfire and explosions.

Although a modernisation of a Shakespearean classic is hardly a ground-breaking idea, Filter Theatre manages to bring something truly unique to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Characters and scenes are presented with new purpose, freshly realising, in particular, the text’s sexual innuendo. It’s not always cohesive, but it is superlatively funny in its gleeful irreverence. Cutting and adding so much text is filled with risk, but it is risk that exists at the foundation of all exciting art. And, in this instance, the liberties taken with the text make for not only a highly-entertaining, but a genuinely accessible version. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much in the theatre.

midsummer-lysander

A scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream @ Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith. Created by Filter and Directed by Sean Holmes and Stef O’Driscoll (Opening 25-02-16) ©Tristram Kenton 02/16 (3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355)email: tristram@tristramkenton.com

 

 

19
Feb
15

Away

 

Away

heartBeast Boutique Theatre

Trinity Hall, Fortitude Valley

February 12 – March 7 2015

 

Reviewed by Meredith Walker

 

Typically, away_meg_sunlightclassic plays can be challenging to stage. Audience members are likely to know at least something about the story, if not have intimate familiarity. Hence, you need to find ways for viewers to reconsider its meaning. Michael Gow’s 1986 work Away certainly falls into this category; Gow is one of those few playwrights whose work is repeatedly favoured by theatre companies staging Australian drama, for despite its late 1960s setting, its thematic examination of key aspects of the Australian psyche including mateship and the underdog, make it somewhat universal.

 

The story is one of sun, sand and sacrifice as it follows the struggles of three families against a backdrop of a traditional Christmas holidays beach break holiday to a non-specific destination ‘up the coast’.

 

But all is not as it seems behind the veneers of their varied lives, with seasonal smiles masking many personal tragedies. Immigrants Harry (Brian Bolton) and Vic (Sherri Smith) are faced with their adolescent son Tom’s illness. Meanwhile, teenage Meg’s friendship with the socially unsuitable Tom is of concern to her henpecked father Jim (David Paterson) and overbearing mother (overplayed by Jacqueline Kerr). And a grief-stricken Coral (Adrienne Costello) recalls the days when husband Roy (Warwick Comber) would compare her to Hollywood starlet Kim Novak. But over their time away, the families are reconciled to face the future anew.

 

Away is well known for time appropriate language, settings and relationships. And in the case of heartBeast’s production, this is realised not just through maintenance of its cultural references (products like the housewife’s drug of choice, Bex power and personalities like the iconic Australian actor Chips Rafferty), but through a wardrobe of costume choices that effectively recapture this hippie period of utopian optimism. Unfortunately, this realism is juxtaposed with some laborious comic relief scenes and the interpretive dance, frenzied representation of a tempest of a storm whipped up by havoc-wreaking fairies.

 

AWAY Fairies Behind Curtains

 

It is no coincidence that the storm is pivotal to the action of the play, as in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

 

Away has clear and plentiful intertextual links with Shakespearean drama. The play begins with the final scene of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the play performed at the end of the school year and concludes with the start of King Lear, as further evidence of its focus of the eternal nature of journeys. There is also use of character disguise and the inclusion of The Stranger on the Shore, an allegorical, beautifully-realised play within a play during which Tom shows Coral a way to overcome her grief for her son, lost to the Vietnam war.

 

As Coral’s husband, school Principal Roy, Comber has a natural stage presence that not only anchors the action, but also highlights the deficiencies of others of lesser experience. But it is Tim’s immigrant parents, played by Harry and Smith, who provide the standout performances, not only maintaining authentic English accents throughout, but conveying content satisfaction in their philosophy of neither looking forward nor back. The problem is the doubling of characters amongst the actors in order bring an ambitious work such as this to life. As Tom, heartBeast newcomer Patrick Bell is engaging in his teenager flirtation with Meg (Johancee Theron), full, as it is, of coy interactions and sideways glances. Yet, as newlywed Rick, with whom the grieving Carol forms an attachment, he appears completely miscast and unimportant to the action.

 

It is easy to understand why heartBeast has chosen Away as its first work of 2015. Since it was first performed on stage in 1986, the play has engaged audiences with its coming of age story, as both individuals and a nation. And its themes are as relevant as ever with its comments on reconciliation and loss. These alone are enough to drive the narrative. To tone down the naturalism and emphasise the play’s over-the-top, dated comic scenes, serves only to labour the point of an already lengthy show.

 

Michael Gow is one of this country’s most significant playwrights. His often colloquial dialogue and vivid character constructions allow audience members to emphasise with and relate to characters.

 

Indeed, its themes of generation gap differences and class distinctions show similarity with other works of our country’s cannon, such as Alan Seymour’s The One Day of the Year and maybe it is this alone, that makes Away a worthwhile venture, for as its Twelfth Night epigraph asks, ‘what country, friends, is this?

 

Patrick Bell is Puck in heartBeast's AWAY compressed

 

18
Feb
15

Opening Night Style at La Boite: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

emilyburton_dream_header

 

Opening Night Style at La Boite: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

 

 

On Wednesday night we walked into Benjamin Schostakowski’s head and experienced a Dream like no other!

 

You can read my review here.

 

 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

 

Dress Code: This is La Boite. Wear boldly whatever you like.

 

Pre-show drinks: La Boite

 

Wearing

 

Pants: Lilya

 

Top: Zara (Honey Birdette worn under)

 

Shoes: Siren Shoes Australia

 

Hair: unstyled. Can you tell? 

 

openingnightstyle_dream_feb2015

17
Feb
15

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

La Boite Theatre Co

Roundhouse Theatre

February 11 – March 7 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

“A wildly original take on Shakespeare’s magical romantic comedy.”

 

 

 

 

 

Alright. That may be, but I have a few questions about this one. Firstly…

 

Who killed Kenny?! PUCK?

 

 

 

 

 

So the faery servant is not altogether dead in this production, but he is actually mostly dead. Or, he is reborn as an alien who channels himself using the magic of television. Or whatever. We hear his voice – well, sort of; it sounds eerily similar to the evil voice in The Child, to which I’m currently listening – and we never actually see him. Oh sure, Oberon sees a version of him, but DOES HE EVEN REALLY EXIST? Who’s to say? Read it how you will; of course the absence of Puck will seem awesome and inspired to some, of course – of course! – but to me it smacks of too much cleverness. Why mess with A Midsummer Night’s Dream? I don’t believe Shakespeare’s characters need to be transported to a terribly different time and place in order to make the old stories relevant to new audiences, or whatever, unless you are Sam Mendes. (I do hope you’re keeping up with the NT Live screenings at a cinema near you because THAT is how we reinvent the classics, kids). #ntlive #nuffsaid

 

Where is the magic here?

Because the magic of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is its magic.

 

Four awkward teens find themselves entangled in a god-awful love quadrangle. A sextet of amateur drama enthusiasts earnestly rehearse a play for a wedding. The Godfather and Godmother of the fairies are locked in a bitter argument over an adopted child, which they seek to resolve through the careless application of dodgy witchcraft.

 

 

dream_bottom_kieranlaw

 

 

In Benjamin Schostakowski’s brave reimagining the magic is almost entirely lost. Where are the faeries? Why must Titania speak to them (and for them) when they are clearly, according to this version, not really there? It seems she is going slightly mad! Or is it just me?! Why do we need to dream the Dream so differently? Other than making a mark as a director, putting one’s own stamp on it and all that stuff, why go to such lengths to pluck out and dispose of all of the gleaming, glistening, beautifully coloured tail feathers? As I know it, the Dream is a peacock, or Amazing Mayzie, but now we see it stripped (though not edited; it’s a long show!), and without the magic we are left with Gertrude McFuzz. Before medication. Poor Gertrude. (Sorry, Gertrude).

 

 

dream_hippolyta_christenoleary

 

 

When we re-stage a classic, a well-loved text, we have to ask, “What’s the message now?” What do we want the audience to take away this time? Has this story changed? No. Have these characters changed? No. We still have lovers (and faeries and crazies) among us. In theory, the story and its characters can be thrown into any setting, but in practice does the (insert superlative here) conceptualisation continue to serve the story?

 

Having enjoyed intelligent conversations with so many people about so many productions over so many years I’m ready to hear the triumphant cries of “genius!” And “inspired!” (No doubt I missed most of them at the after party. It was late. There are roadworks every night. There is school every day, and there were four more fabulous shows to get to last week!). I’ve said the same, loudly, about A Tribute of Sorts. I loved it! But Schostakowski’s “wildly original take” on A Midsummer Night’s Dream has missed the mark, despite its moments of inspired genius. Do you know what I love most about this production? That it happened. That Chris Kohn had scheduled it, that Todd Macdonald & co have supported it, that everybody involved was up for something new, exciting and daring and IT HAPPENED.

 

 

BUT THERE IS NO PUCK! FOR PUCK’S SAKE!

 

 

I had high expectations, which prevailed upon sighting Dann Barber’s beautiful, cluttered set (everything brought onto stage stays on stage); it’s an interior not unlike the country house in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (or what the Year 7 drama students might imagine Darkwood House to look like), with a great, grand central staircase and incredible detail in the dressing of the space, right down to the carpet on the stairs, the suitably slightly garish wallpaper, and the props placed on shelves and side tables, creating an old fashioned feeling of the typical homely, cosy, hoarder’s precious mess. It doesn’t strike me as particularly Australian but, y’know, whatever.

 

 

dream_hermia_kathrynmarquet

 

 

More importantly, why is there no beauty in it? My initial intrigue turns to dismay when nothing more than the obvious is done: the house is a house is a house. Another missed opportunity perhaps as far as lighting states go (although the next night, at Sex With Strangers, I spoke with Lighting Designer, Jason Glenwright, about it and he didn’t seem to mind in the least), when we have no magical dappled forest lighting. It’s. A. House. I think sometimes the obvious choices annoy me. We see no subtlety, no subtext; everything is exactly as it seems. Except in the acting choices, and perhaps as the lamps flicker… More of that kind of magic too, please!

 

 

dream_dance_mechanicals

 

 

The Mechanicals are another example. They come this close to bringing the house down with their silly antics and sure, they’re funny, but they should in fact be so excruciatingly bad that they become holding-your-belly-hilarious. The performances within The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe are actually fine. Oh, but wait! The most delicious, wicked, tongue-in-cheek comedy comes with the actors’ focus exercises and warm ups! The focus exercise gets me every time, each one a masterclass in comic timing and the magic of a good ensemble. Absolutely hysterical! HA! #sittingacrossfromseanmeelaughing #comedygold

 

It’s a reduced cast, boiled down to six instead of the usual twenty or so, and it’s an inspired (and economically sound) idea that doesn’t quite work. We wait, old-school high school musical scene-change style, for costume changes. Despite being mostly hilarious, and winning over the majority of the opening night audience with his vocal and physical work, Kieran Law’s Lysander, Bottom, Pyramus and the ass are too similar. (For the uninitiated, the latter refers to the donkey he becomes when Bottom is transformed by Puck’s magic spell). And can I say; what a missed opportunity it is to just die! “I die. I die. I die.” And he does. Sigh. Sometimes I wonder how much is the director’s choice, and how much is left to the actor’s discretion? I wonder again as Pacharo Mzembe (Demetrius) runs and leaps about the space shirtless and shining with sweat, months before he will return to this stage in Prize Fighter…is it not yet selling well? Now it will! You know I have no problem with admiring a well maintained male (or female) form on stage (or screen) but what should have been completely natural, joyous and boisterous reeked of  a marketing stunt akin to an etsy crafter friend taking advantage of Ryan Gosling’s memeness to self-promote in your newsfeed. #yesmemenessisawordnow #heygirl

 

 

dream_christenoleary_kieranlaw

 

There are plenty of lovely moments, to which Law and Mzembe contribute, and the girls are great. There is much to enjoy. After the show, when I wonder aloud at my simultaneous delight and frustration with the four of them, despite mostly gorgeous performances, Julia reminds me, “You have to be in love with the lovers!” OH YES. (Am I? Am I in love with the lovers? Perhaps I would be by the end of the season).

 

 

dream_snug_kathrynmarquet

 

 

Well, if you LOVE Kathryn Marquet you’ll LOVE her sighing, gasping, whimpering, wailing, plain ol’ little Hermia. I loved her Snug, and for what purpose its interpretation I cannot tell you, but I LOVED Marquet’s delivery of what becomes a Slide (Sydney) worthy performance poetry piece (think Maureen in Over the Moon). The interpretive dance, which opens the play within the play? Not so much (Choreographer Neridah Waters). I’m glad many on opening night enjoyed the sequence – it feels like a fond, funny throwback to A Tribute of Sorts – but like so many aspects of the production it’s a token gesture, and perhaps that’s the point. #tryeverythingonce

 

 

 

 

dream_helena_emilyburton

 

 

Speaking of A Tribute of Sorts, of the four lovers, Emily Burton is the standout. Her Helena makes the most sense in this context, and her performance keeps me captivated. Burton has been offered here, like everyone else, a couple of very OTT moments but she’s the only one who manages to make each one completely plausible. Her facial expressions make this Helena more animated than perhaps you’ve seen before, and the effect – she – is beautiful.

 

Christen O’Leary, as you will know if you’re a regular here, is one of my favourite physical performers. She has a voice, yes, and as Hippolyta, she uses it effortlessly to command and cajole. We won’t mention the Helen Howardesque hair. (Why is it we are still all having so much trouble finding perfect wigs for productions? Huh? Please send help!) Anyway, sans wig, as Titania O’Leary flits and flirts and seduces her way around the space like a proper nymph, and I expect more to come of her relationship with Bottom as the ass. There is nothing more yet. It feels, so early in the season, as if they are holding back, being very careful in that bathtub! Somebody send them to Wicked for research! (N.B. There are no complete clips of Steve & Jemma yet, sorry). Anyway, she talks with faeries that are not there and voices their few lines, as I’ve said, creating what comes across as a slightly mad Ophelia vibe. Again, this may have been the vibe we were going for! WHO’S TO SAY? #theresrosemarythatsforremembrance

 

 

dream_oberon_brianlipson

 

We also enjoy a strong, sure performance from Brian Lipson (Theseus & Oberon), and in both his guises he reminds me of somebody…ah! That’s it! #teamgilfedder

 

 

dream_robinstarveling_emilyburton

 

There are many who will very loudly, quite rightly adore this production, and thank goodness, because we know from past experience that in the meantime, the critics of the critics will only talk about how wildly I’ve missed the point. Maybe so. But there is something lost in translation here, which cannot be glossed over by a sparkly press release or an over zealous, super supportive review in praise of originality, the rise and rise of the indie theatre makers and the need to support them, and the desire to seduce the next generation, and yet… #stageitandtheywillcome

 

This truly new take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream gives us lots to talk about, and lots to look forward to because it’s clear Schostakowski has a gift. We see its promise, its glimmer, like the Arkanstone tumbling away through the masses of superfluous, distractifying treasure (#sorrynotsorry #ozspeak), and what I’d love to see again now is the return of the trust in the work; a return to the simple magic of theatre, without having to prove a thing, whatever that thing might be.

 

This Dream might be your thing. Find out!

 

Images by Dylan Evans

 

 

thearkanstone

 

 

30
Jul
12

Are you Queensland’s Biggest Ballet Fan?

Hamburg Ballet

Think you have what it takes to claim the title of

QUEENSLAND’S BIGGEST BALLET FAN?

Upload your photo/film/text for your chance to

WIN THE ULTIMATE BALLET PACKAGE!

Do you enter a room with a leap, stand en pointe waiting in line or is your favourite outfit a tutu? Show us you’re QLD’s biggest ballet fan by submitting a video, photo or text entry. This could be your ticket to see one of the world’s leading ballet companies, The Hamburg Ballet performing exclusively in Brisbane this August. The top 3 entries from each category with the most votes will be judged based on imagination, enthusiasm and excitement for ballet.

Check out the Gallery here

I’m suggesting our own Stephanie Fisher from Embody Performing Arts is a contender.

Check out this shot of Steph by Sunshine Coast photographer Kate Whatman.

Stephanie Fisher

Queensland’s Biggest Ballet Fan – Individual (prize for 2 people) includes:

  • Return economy airfares
  • Airport transfers
  • Accommodation: one night for two people (In: 1 September Out: 2 September 2012 ONLY)
  • Premium Tickets for two people for A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7.30pm on Saturday 1 September 2012
  • Inclusion in a group tour of QPAC behind the scenes.
  • Set Menu Dinner at the Lyrebird restaurant for 2 people on Saturday 1 September 2012
  • The Hamburg Ballet Program

Queensland’s Biggest Ballet Fan – Performance Group / School (prize for up to 10 people) includes:

  • Return economy airfares
  • Airport transfers
  • Accommodation: one nights for up to ten people (In: 1 September Out: 2 September 2012 ONLY)
  • A reserve Tickets for up to 10 people for A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7.30pm on Saturday 1 September valued at $1300.
  • Inclusion in a group tour of QPAC behind the scenes.
  • Dinner for up to ten people at QPAC Café Saturday 1 September 2012
  • The Hamburg Ballet Programs

Participation in this Competition means acceptance of these terms and conditions.

A Midsummer Night's Dream Premiere Experience

03
Jun
12

Opera Australia’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Opera Australia

QPAC Lyric Theatre

1st – 9th June 2012

Reviewed by Michelle Bull

Enticed by the faint smell of incense creeping under the doors of the Lyric theatre, you could be forgiven for thinking you were about to see a touring Bollywood production and not an opera by Opera Australia. But as the next few hours unfolded, there was no mistaking this production for anything else but Baz Luhrmann’s take on Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, set in 1923 India.

For those of you unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s enchanting tale, it goes something like this…The Queen of the Fairies, Tytania, is a tad smitten with her charge, a young Indian boy, so much so that King Oberon gets a little upset and consequently the two have a bit of a spat. King Oberon sends his servant Puck to fetch a potion that with one-drop causes love at first sight, Oberon intends to use this on Tytania. Meanwhile there’s a love quadrangle going on with mortals Helena, Hermia, Lysander and Demetrius, and the impish Oberon decides to test out his potion on them, causing quite the kafuffle. Also in the forest that night (it’s a busy wood this one), are the rustics (workmen), who are there to rehearse a play intended for the wedding of the Duke of Athens Theseus and his Queen Hippolyta. They also get muddled up with the potion and so it all gets quite messy. There are three weddings, a dramatic death scene and then day breaks and all is well…phew! Quite a lot of narrative to digest in three acts, but the wonders of a decadent set and some glorious singing defiantly aid digestion.

Dressed in vibrant colour and speckled with glimmers of firelight and flowers the stage (Catherine Martin, Bill Marron) is the picture of a magical fairy woodland. I was completely immersed even before the opera had begun. Incense, and a soundscape of birds and forest sounds were the perfect finishing touches to a set that housed a water pool, suspended bridges draped in vines, flowers and the superb sounds of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra!

One by one we were introduced to the characters, from Fairy Kings and Queens, love struck mortals and dancing nymphs and faries. The costuming and makeup of all was impeccable, and reminiscent of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, tying into the choreography that throughout was also inspired by bollywood-esque gesture and lines (John O’Connell).

Overall, the entire cast was strong both in voice and characterisation. Tobias Cole as King Oberon was utterly hypnotic. His wonderfully balanced and resonant counter-tenor, added to the statuesque elegance he brought to the role. I was entranced and unnerved all at once; the perfect Fairy King.

Portraying the same unnerving smile as complement was Tyler Coppin as the impish Puck. Bringing a childlike physicality and sense of play to the role he delivered with strong comic timing and a wonderful melodic shaping to his treatment of the text.

His Queen, Lorena Gore as Fairy Queen Tytania was also an absolute joy to watch. With a ringing brightness and light agility to her pretty coloratura she encapsulated all a Fairy Queen should, gliding across the stage with a flirty cheekiness that made her instantly loveable.

The Lovers – Hermia, Helena, Lysander and Demetrius – all gave solid performances both individually and as an ensemble. James Egglestone as Lysander was sweet and sung with a wonderful sense of poise and connectedness despite the rigorous physical demands of the role. Luke Gabbedy as Demetrius also commanded a strong presence onstage both physically and vocally, managing effortlessly a balance of strength and tenderness to his large lyric baritone.

I particularly enjoyed Jade Ede as Helena. Awkwardly philosophical and hopelessly love struck, her beautiful soprano cascaded effortlessly through from top to bottom, providing a magnificent contrast to the rough and ready physicality of her character.

Sian Pendry as Hermia provided a chocolaty legitimate mezzo sound to her role. Her feisty attack on Helena was hilarious and showed Pendry’s wonderful dedication to character in its intensity; the duet between the two, a comic and musical highlight that showed the skill of the performers as they leapt and lurched across the stage while maintaining control of the vocal line.

The six rustics were next to win our hearts and raised a cheer each time they entered. Like a cross between bumbling workman and Dad’s Army, they brought a wonderful comic element to the show. Each with their own character within the group provided a solid ensemble. Bottom, (a weaver) played by Conal Coad, was hilarious and with an authoritative bass baritone who exploited the comic moments for all they were worth. His love scenes (as an Ass) with Tytania were very amusing and left not much to the imagination. I heard a few tut tuts from the audience at the suggestiveness of some of these scenes but it was all in good fun!

Graeme MacFarlene played Flute, a bellows mender (and Thisbe in the Rustics play). Showing adaptability and great characterisation within his voice, his strong tenor was matched by his skill as a wonderful comic actor.

Quince (Richard Anderson), Snug (Richard Alexander), Stout (John Longmuir) and Starveling (Andrew Moran) were each individually very funny in their roles. The Rustics overall ensemble sound was beautifully balanced and musical, and they quick became audience favorites.

The final act gave us the wonderfully strong Bass voice of Jud Arthur as Theseus and contralto Tania Ferris as Hippolyta. Despite occupying a small amount of stage time, I really enjoyed both their performances; Arthur’s Bass sound filled the entire Lyric theatre effortlessly, and Ferris’s contralto was controlled and rich and oozed regality.

The cast are supported throughout by an enchanting chorus of fairies, spirits and dancing nymphs, mischievous and wide eyed with a beautiful ensemble sound. The Act 3 finale Now Until the Break of Day was a highlight, showcasing the ethereal sound of the children’s chorus.

There is so much to love about this current production by Opera Australia, that I feel I need a review twice as long to include it all. There is a glamour to this production that is utterly charming. The fairy tale does not ignore Britten’s darker underlying themes lurking in the shadows and skillfully lures its audience in through an intelligent approach to the intricacies of the score and staging.

This creates a magical fairytale with just the right amount of grit to give it an unnerving other worldly air. The cast are superb and with a set that transports you to a fairy dreamland from the minute you enter the space, the three acts whizz by so fast that you wish you could keep dreaming.