Theatre Erindale’s production of the William Shakespeare classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes a familiar and beloved comedic piece and turns it on its head with outstanding payoffs and rousing laughs for the audience.
The play accomplishes a lot in its three hours: a variety of dry and merciless wit, slapstick encounters between tortured lovers, zealous amateur players looking to shine, and dreamy fairies attempting to play with fate. And it all culminates in a mystical and lovable fantasy production with one great sequence after another.
This is the fourth production in the 2012/13 Theatre Erindale season, dubbed “Mayhem”, and guest director Sue Miner takes Midsummer in an entirely new direction, shifting the historical context of the show away from Athens, Greece to Victorian England at the apex of the industrial revolution. Miner captures the factory-focused culture and theatrical melodrama of the period, cementing it in her artful direction of the piece. The choices are well supported by a slew of great performances and artful set furnishings by Patrick Young. Swift and precise stage management by Barbara McLean Wright also adds to the dexterity and necessary discipline needed to keep pace with all the laughter.
The play follows the hilarious experiences of three main groups whose interactions are laced with routine folly and exaggerated difficulties. The lovers—played exceptionally well by Lindsay Middleton, Ali Richardson, Josh Wiles, and Victor Pokinko—are central to the story, as their desperation for their true desires to be realized (despite precarious intervention) gives a foundation of amusement to the piece. The tortured romances of these four are constantly meddled with by the fairies who interfere, sometimes playfully, leading to many unexpected predicaments. A standout performance is the character of Puck (Wes Payne), the right-hand fairy of Oberon, King of the Fairies (played with gravitas by Marcus Haccius), who seeks to punish the disobedience of his fairy queen through a potent love scheme.
The show is supported by a dark, multi-layered set with a prominent balcony. The set signifies the industrial nature of the period, but it also transforms magnificently into the verdant fairyland forest. The set’s transformation is symbolic of the magical shift towards the lustful and melodramatic dream the lovers play in and becomes a pivotal character in itself. Excellent lighting and costumes that display the cultural and class differences of the period further complement the set and actors. The performers make strong use of the robust set and lighting, perfectly timing their moments and cues. The jolly squabbling and braying of the fairies is especially pleasurable to watch; all the fairies have their own unique sensibilities and relationships as they play with the lovers and follow the bizarre orders of their fairy masters.
The amateur factory-workers-turned-thespians (known as the “Mechanicals”) provide excellent comic relief and catharsis for the production. Fraser Woodside, playing the hilarious Nick Bottom (and, more importantly, the role of Pyramus) is especially in control of his performance as an over-the-top actor looking to play every part possible in their makeshift play. The group of pseudo-thespians has some of the greatest moments in the play and they all work seamlessly off each other, culminating in their fortuitous final production in front of the privileged at Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding (Evan Williams and Zenia Czobit, respectively) where their charm comes full circle in a hotbed of hysteria.
“The whole cast really enjoyed working on the show,” said Cornelia Audrey, who plays Moth (one of the fairies) in the show. “Sue was a really great director to work with and she allowed us to explore and have fun with the material. We all worked really well as a team and were all connected in some way.”
High comedy of this style requires a skilled cast and crew to trace the complex network of dialogue and action of Shakespeare’s prose; Theatre Erindale does a superb job. With a strong imagination and control of the material, the production comes to life, grabs the audience, and does not let go once.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs until March 3 at Theatre Erindale.