A Midsummer Night’s Dream @ The Genesians

Jack McMahon as Demetrius and Catherine Davies as Helena. Photography by Mark Banks
Jack McMahon as Demetrius and Catherine Davies as Helena. Photography by Mark Banks

At first glance over the program and cast list for this production, the feint-hearted traditionalist could be excused for having some concerns. Shakespeare’s classic is now to be seen through Australian eyes, with ‘Beach Bums’ and ‘Hippies’ replacing the Players and Fairies.

However such fears are short lived. Any potential cringing is replaced with sheer enjoyment. Debbie Smith’s beautifully bright beach-to bush set and well-directed cast burst off the stage making us quickly at home. The reworking succeeds and the increased humour is performed with slick precision along the way.

Such displacement sees swinging sixties outfits and atmosphere swathing Shakespeare’s insights into love and those relationships with their course never running smoothly. This theming gives the fanciful elements of the piece interesting credibility in the far-out context of that decade. A fine soundtrack is used, with beach grooving on real sand to make this an enjoyable and accessible version. Also, sound effects signpost the supernatural elements each time they are due. The iconic Aussie beach town characters from all social levels add extra fun and familiarity.

The modernisation does not sacrifice or downplay correct delivery of the bard’s poetry. The text maintains a rather speedy but still accurate inflection and rhythm. Couplets rhyme smoothly and naturally. The lengthier metrical structures are given the space they require to breathe, unravel and retain their required clarity and lightness.

Catherine Davies’ feisty and hilarious portrayal of Helena is ideal for both the original Shakespeare and this adaptation. Unrequited love and desperation turning tables on her makes for some superbly handled moments of visual comedy. Great costuming choices from designer Susan Carveth and effective hair styling support the energy and contrasts in this performance.

The two young couples traipsing through the bush or dunes form a tight ensemble which look great and interact well throughout. Their commentary on the play-within-a play as guests of the Duke is delightful Aussie laconicism.

The hippy-fairies surround Oberon and Titania with various degrees of trippy interest as the leaders continue their row. Concise entries, exits and gatherings around their King and Queen exploit the set and space fully. Superb characterisations by Melanie Robinson (Titania) and James Hartley (Oberon- and also the Duke) exude great chemistry in their ‘it’s complicated’ relationship. They are ‘happening’ heads of the group in scenes with their kindred spirits.

The design also features an excellently decorated vintage chaise lounge for Titania’s enchanted repose with the furry actor, Bottom. Shallow sixties beach chairs, floral umbrellas and constantly changing period fashion are props which also abound in the space. Audiences are likely to recall hitting the Aussie beaches with similar paraphernalia in the past.

A very chilled-out Puck (Danny Nercessian) with headband and bare feet is often surrounded by magical bubbles as he comments and performs his tricks. He links strands of the ‘Athens Beach’ action together admirably. Nercessian’s delivery, especially those famous parting words are as witty, warm and cheeky as in a version from any decade.

This detailed production survives its tweaking very well. A sunny disposition blesses the enthusiastic and capable cast. This play is tastefully reinvented and grooves with no slow spots to bring us down. Viewers waking from their typical expectations will find themselves truly enamoured of it.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM plays the Genesian Theatre until Saturday March 28.