Thoroughly enjoyed it and so it seemed did the rest of the audience, including some small ones dressed up for the occasion as faeries. A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM from Holroyd Musical and Dramatic Society is an interesting, cohesive concept, with some very good acting and it really rollicks along. No fear of Shakespeare here as a modern interpretation breathes new life into a show we know so well. With no flower potions required.
In a character heavy plot, Shakespeare explores the themes of love and darkness and of legacy and memory through 4 sets of characters. King Theseus has warred with, and conquered, Queen Hippolyta and will take her to wife. Hermia is in love with Lysander, and he with her, but her father has betrothed her to Demetrius. Demetrius is loved and pursued by Helena.
Add to the mortal mix, a group of rude mechanicals, led by Peter Quince and overlorded by bombast Nick Bottom, who are met to rehearse a play for the royal nuptials. To interfere with and take enjoyment from the mortals is the faery kingdom. King Oberon and his estranged Queen Titania are in dispute over a changeling boy. It is Oberon’s henchman and mildly malevolent imp, Puck who will cause chaos as lovers and mechanicals stray into the woods and impose upon the natural world.
It is this conflict between the natural and man-made world which has informed the production concept from Director Laura May Vassallo. It’s a messy affair with the tradespeople bringing plastic galore and a detailed set and evocative costuming made from various discards. There are foyer images of pollution and a great recycling system set up for the hospitality rubbish. But most poignantly the theme is brought home in the makeup where the spirits are gradually being darkened and veined by the electronic detritus which is pervading what should be left untouched. (Costumes: Gina Rose Drew; Set: Jordan Vassallo; Makeup: Emma Bradbury)
Emerging from the detritus left by the tradespeople is Puck (Alison Benstead). Benstead is energetic and athletic as she works in close with the audience, bringing us into her schemes. In her ribboned doublet, she is speaks directly to us and one little boy in the front row got very excited whenever the light effect presaged her entry. The lines are delivered at a considerable pace and, perhaps, some of the music is lost but the intent is very clear. Mischievous and with terrific command of the physicality, Benstead also brings a strong understanding of power to the role. She can manipulate the lovers with the controlling sweep of a hand and yet around Oberon, who absently pets her on the head, there is a different Puck. Here Benstead is childlike, lying and lolling and playing with her feet.
Also with a clearly modern interrogation of text is Chrissy Moylan’s reluctant bride Hippolyta. One of the subtler innovations of this production is the way in which Titania informs the change in Hippolyta. Moylan’s Titania is equal with Oberon, played with command by Nicholas Starte, and by the time we get to the wedding scene it is evident that moral and faery have merged. Theseus is on his best behaviour and Starte delicately balances his performance to show contrition and growth.
The other mortal lovers are exciting and physically exuberant characters in this incarnation, with the women particularly impressive. They have a well explored friendship when we first see them together and that sets a lovely tone for the trials that their relationship will endure. Jade Fuda’s Hermia is excitable and great fun to watch, with petulance well placed when required. Erin Franks gives a really unusual interpretation of Helena that I really warmed to. A wide-eyed, soft hearted disbelief … setting the scene nicely for the pathos of her comic embarrassment. The men, Mathew Doherty as Demetrius and Jordan Heidecker as Lysander, are ardent and handsome, hitting all the right notes without being obnoxious or piggish.
The denim bib and braced mechanicals work together so well as a team. They imply acquaintance of longstanding and in their actions and their responses inform and extend the work of Quince and Bottom. Their complete belief in that Quince (Ashleigh King who is very funny in her frustration) can actually pull this off, and their awe at the confidence of Bottom (Peter David Allison) is lovely.
Also very sweet, is their support of Flute (Douglas Bryant) who will play Thisbe. Bryant does such a good job during the play within, they all do. It’s really entertaining with Moon and Wall discharging their parts with flair. (Heather Tleige, Erin Middleton, Emma Bradbury, Abira Harvey) . Allison’s Nick Bottom is great fun. Allison looks for all the world like he is having a ball and his grandstanding, pomposity and grandiloquence never get taken beyond the comic to the grotesque. His work as Pyramus is a delight to the audience, too.
Technically the show runs very tight. The audio score (Design: Laura May Vassallo )reprises ‘Windmills of Your Mind’ in various incarnations which works well for cohesion and ambience and this dream also has some very well interpolated sound effects. Such as the use of a low industrial thrum under some scenes. Lighting design from Matthew Lutz is restrained in colour with light blue and purple/pinks lifting the black of the costuming. Particularly effective was the use of a nice pink for the sensuous Sleep Song and there are some lovely uses of standalone lights in entrances and especially in the flower.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM is a real cure for winter chills. It’s a show to warm the heart and put on display the best of what community theatre can do with lots of laughs and an environmental warning to take away into the cold night. HDMS continue their 2018 season with AVENUE Q in September.