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A Midsummer Night's Dream
Adaptivity Theatre Company
Earl Arts Centre

April 6th, 2022

We all know the story; four Athenian lovers entangled in a web of competition for the affection of the other. Hermia loves Lysander much to her father’s chagrin, who wants her to marry Demetrius, but Hermia’s best friend Helena in fact loves him. They find themselves in a forest inhabited by fairies who manipulate the humans and are engaged in their own domestic intrigue. Love potion is mixed into the eyes of the wrong lovers, Titania falls in love with a donkey, and there is a troupe of five actors rehearsing a play within a play. Hilarity ensues.

One of the most well-known and well-regarded Shakespearean comedies gets a renewed staging, under the direction of Kelly Wilson and Adaptivity Theatre Company. In this production, reality blurs and the timeline shifts, as we observe the “Forest Dream” through the eyes of Cynthia; an elderly woman who suffers from early on-set Alzheimer’s, still believing to be in her twenties. Through hallucinogenic dreams, and the caring enthusiasm of her nursing home nurses to allow her to use drama therapy to direct a production of Pyramus & Thisbe, we watch her slowly begin to regain the memory of her long since forgotten husband and daughter.

In this adaptation, Shakespeare’s text is maintained in its entirety, which felt disappointing to me as this strikingly original concept appeared under-utilised. This approach to the text presented more like a framework to design the show around than a true adaptation. On the few occasions when this conceptual vision materialized accurately; which included a stunningly pure waltz between Titania and Oberon in the second act; they shone through as poignant and affecting. Unfortunately, the exposition required to establish this concept hampered the progress of the show to begin, with far too much back acting closing the audience off to the characters we needed to connect with early. Nevertheless, once the show hits its peak in the second act, we get absorbed in the forest with the young lovers and the fairies, as the anticipated chaotic charm of Shakespeare’s most popular text comes alive.

Robbie Bleakley’s Demetrius was the pick of a vigorous quartet of young lovers; his adept knowledge of Shakespearean language, it’s rhythm and timbre; paired with his animated comical physicality, was the ideal energy needed for the pandemonium. Bleakley was undoubtedly born to perform Shakespeare, the ease in his delivery conveyed an exceptional comprehension of the language, the most outstanding I’ve seen in a young actor for some time. Toni Prestage as Hermia was also delightful once she worked her way into the role; her awakening hits the moment Lysander and Demetrius turn from her. A petulant spirit was unleashed within, and her intensity lifted the scene; mixed with Bleakley and Grady Lynch (Lysander)’s hilariously staged but dangerously perceived fight choreography; and Elkie Kershaw (Helena)’s demure disposition at the chaos ensuing, made this scene a highlight.

Nathaniel Wood’s Nick Bottom: the leader of the tawdry bunch of misfit mechanicals (classified as “Medicinals” and played by the nurses of the hospital) had a memorably over the top, oafish persona that splendidly exemplifies the buffoonery in the comedies of William Shakespeare. Consistently trying to steal the spotlight by letting out his inner “Ass”, Wood’s characterisation of Nick Bottom, along with his hilarious interplay with Kevin Vong’s Thisbe, assisted the play within a play (always a highlight) to build to a riotous crescendo.

Anne Riley, Chris Bryg and David Lee provide the maturity to this ensemble of young performers. While Anne Riley may have seemed still a bit too youthful to be convincing of an elderly woman losing her memory, her turn as the regal Queen Titania is where her experience really shines through. However, David Lee’s uncomplicated performance as William was a haunting depiction of watching the ones we love slowly disappearing into their lifelong fantasy worlds.  

Adding musical compositions to Shakespeare benefits the resonance of climactic points throughout, if they are placed at correct moments. Wilson, along with composer Karlin Love and accompanist Raj Sinha, have created some truly enchanting compositions; some of the most enjoyable compositions I’ve heard in Shakespeare; that underline these high emotional peaks. Chris Bryg, with his soaring operatic tenor, delivers each time and ensures that he makes the role his own. Although, “Yes, My Love”, an aria originally written by Henry Purcell from his opera The Fairy Queen, was the song performed at the most poignant moment in the show, it was “Titania’s Lullaby” sung by the ensemble of fairies and led by the exquisite voice of Mel Grossman that stole the show. The contrast between the heaviness of Chris’s operatic vocals and the lightness of Mel’s soprano, married with harmonies from the fairies’ around her, was a beautiful point of difference that stopped the music from becoming stale and repetitive.

Upon entering the theatre at the beginning of the night, the minimal set design lacked any real inspiration but as we transitioned into the creation of the “Dream”, using the unaffected expanse of the theatre was extremely effective. Lighting Designer, Mark Smith, creates an opulent grotto with a very uncomplex use of gobo’s and washing the stage in projection. Lighting designers who aren’t afraid to embrace darkness on stage are those who create the most fascinating work in my opinion. His flexibility to strip away further was daring and exciting and combining that, along with the two small projectible cloth pieces that descended from the ceiling, assisted the audience to stumble down the rabbit hole with Cynthia.

Costume designer Janice Molineux can’t put a foot wrong, once again composing vibrant, era appropriate costumes that effectively balanced the stage picture; playing off the dark stage with a clever use of colour and fairy lights on the individual fairy costumes that births an element of mystique and fantasy. These period costumes were also used in multiple priceless “Family Photos” that are projected upon the back wall throughout and consistently keep the laughs rolling along.

Overall, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a much-loved, always entertaining classic. I believe there are options to continue developing this adapted version, however this current iteration is still enjoyable throughout.

Review By Matt Taylor

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