The Bard comes to life
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM. Directed by Fred Abrahamse, with Terence Bridgett, Marcel Meyer, Kim Cloete, Sven Ruygrok, Sizwe Msutu, Zonda Njokweni, James Macgregor, Nicholas Campbell, Hannah Borthwick, Luthando Mthi, Mdu Kweyama, Wiseman Sitole, Sipho Vara and Malefane Mosuhli. At Maynardville Theatre until February 23. TYRONE AUGUST reviews.
SHAKESPEARE’S popular comedy is about dreams and fairies and romance. This makes the Maynardville Theatre in Wynberg an ideal venue: the open-air theatre adds to the mystique and enchantment of the play.
Director Fred Abrahamse gleefully seized on the natural attractions offered by the venue: he relocated A Midsummer Night’s Dream to a luxury game lodge and imaginatively incorporated the park into his set design.
What further helps to create this world of magic on stage is that the performances take place at night: the darkness that embraces the venue helps to transport the audience into another, almost ethereal, world.
The night-time performances also allow Ian Powell to dazzle with his laser design. He helps to create a world of fantasy in which it is not hard to believe that invisible fairies hang about and cast spells whenever they please.
But, of course, all this technical wizardry would count for little if the story itself were not convincingly brought to life by the cast. Fortunately, with such a strong cast and accomplished director, there is little chance of disappointment.
The play revolves around several couples (or would-be couples).
It starts off with the duke Theseus (Meyer) and his beloved, Hippolyta (Cloete), sharing sweet terms of endearment on the eve of their marriage.
But other love-struck couples are not as fortunate. Hermia (Njokweni) and Lysander (Macgregor) also want to spend the rest of their lives together, but her father, the nobleman Egeus (Msutu), is fiercely opposed to any union between the two.
Instead, Egeus wants Hermia to marry Demetrius (Campbell), who appears to be genuinely in love with her. And, if this is not messy enough, Demetrius is, in turn, the object of someone else’s affections (Borthwick’s Helena).
To avoid being forced into marrying Demetrius, Hermia and Lysandra decide to elope. However, before they run away, Hermia confides in Helena, who informs Demetrius in a futile attempt to win him over. As a result, the four end up together in the bushveld.
This is where Shakespeare gives free rein to his comic impulses: he introduces another couple, the king (Meyer) and queen (Cloete) of the fairies. After they have an argument, the king turns to the fairy Puck (Ruygrok) to punish her with the help of juice from a magical plant.
The king also instructs Puck to use the juice to intervene in the affairs of the two couples in the bushveld.
The confusion of identities, and misdirected affections, that follow are at the heart of the comedy.
On the surface, the play appears to be little more than a lark, its main purpose to provide some amusement (according to the programme notes, it is speculated that it was written to celebrate a noble wedding).
However, some of the underlying themes in the play are difficult to ignore completely: even though it does so with a light touch, the play also appears to speak about issues relating to identity, youthful rebellion and desire.
It also playfully explores the relationship between reality and fantasy (or, to quote from the programme notes, between “reason and imagination”). Freud would also no doubt have much to say about the dream aspect of the play.
On stage, Abrahamse chooses to concentrate on the comic elements of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The puppet play put on by the game lodge staff, in which Bottom (Bridgett) and Peter Quince (Mthi) feature prominently, is central in this regard.
However, Abrahamse and the production team do draw attention to some of the more serious aspects of the play in the programme notes. These help to enlighten the audience about some aspects which may otherwise easily be overlooked or misinterpreted.
The programme notes also help to place A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the broader context of Shakespeare’s plays. Yet they do so in an understated way; the audience is not beaten over the head with reams of dense information.
This production is a delightful rendition of the play. The cast is, on the whole, impressive: they fully inhabit their roles, and display an effortless command of Elizabethan English, making it seem fresh and vibrant.
Besides their obvious technical skills (notably Meyer and Cloete), the cast also displays impeccable comic timing.
Bridgett and Ruygrok, in particular, deserve a special mention in this regard. By comparison, there is less to do for Mosuhuli and Sitole, yet they also make the most of their roles.
Abrahamse has moulded the cast into a team who complement each other very well. Meyer’s magnificent costumes and Faheem Bardien’s lighting adds to the visual feast, while Charl-Johan Lingenfelder’s original score also contributes to making the play an all-round pleasure.
Meticulous attention was obviously given to all aspects of the production. It is a most worthy, and enjoyable, addition to the annual editions of Shakespeare’s work at the Maynardville Theatre.
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