Monday, December 7, 2009

A Midsummer Night's Dream - Belvoir Downstairs

Midsummer (as I shall henceforth refer to it as) is essentially a best man speech. It was probably originally performed at a wedding which it was written specifically for and therefore is full of in jokes that we can’t possibly get, as we’re somewhat lacking in intimate knowledge of the betrothed. All the cracks about single life are equivalent to the “he’s getting married – ball ‘n’ chain mate, ball ‘n’ chain” humour that romantic comedies have led me to believe all best man speeches must include. This is the context that director Eamon Flack is drawing on with this production, (most of these ideas are lifted straight from the programme), attempting to bring that sense of frivolity and play to the now very old text, and to be honest I think it’s probably the way to do Midsummer. This production is thoroughly silly. As we entered the theatre Cindy Lauper’s opus “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” greeted our ears, and the play began with Theseus singing a love to song to Hippolyta accompanying himself on the Casio keyboard (the same keyboards which my father has taught many a primary school student to play). This sets up the mood for the rest of the show, which is essentially a romp through the Shakespeare text.


This is where the whole thing could fail. If you don’t know the text, I think it’s possible you’d get lost in the tightly choreographed mess of this production. The plot is sometimes put behind the curtain while a moment of comedy brilliance occurs, but that’s the feel of the piece. Just as the best man will undoubtedly digress to tell the story of some drunken misdemeanour, Charlie Garber (who never really seems to be off stage) breaks out of character to fall in love with an audience member. I pretty much think that as long as you were aware that there was a bunch of lovers, a bunch of actors, and a bunch of fairies, you’d probably be able to make it through this show without being too confused. Except for whenever Gareth Davies is on stage. After an amazing performance in Hayloft’s “The Only Child” earlier in the year on the same stage, Davies has again proved that he is a tour de force of comedy. His Thisbe was truly a sight to behold, and I even saw off-stage cast members cracking up at his performance. However it is Garber who is truly in control of the piece playing Bottom and Puck. His comic timing never falters but it’s his absolute control of the Shakespeare text that I find so impressive. It is a credit to the other members of the cast though that despite the innate presence of these two performers, the other actors never get lost in the mix. I could probably go on for a while about all the performers but that would get very boring as I’m somewhat limited in my positive adjectives.

Essentially this play was pretty darn funny. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time, and I was never bored in the two and a half hour running time. But I think that it also achieved that other goal of a best man’s speech, it had its touching moments, such as Titania’s (Katherine Cullun) final speech, which drew me in beautifully. I was really impressed because honestly, I’m not that big a fan of the play. When it’s performed “faithfully” I think it’s a pretty boring clich├ęd love story. That’s what happens when you ignore the fact that it was probably intended for a bunch of drunk rich people. This production tries to bring that feeling back, and does so with glee.

- Simon