From the onset of Mendelssohn's gorgeous overture, we know Puck (a Gollum-inspired Joelle Taylor) is in charge. All the world's their stage and all the men and women are merely players…or puppets? As they freeze in time, Puck adjusts, repositions, and plays puppet-master to them all before we embark on this well-adored classic of Shakespeare's. This is Midsummer like you know and love, but reunited with the classics Mendelssohn wrote in the 19th Century.
Musicians aside, unfortunately, the sound in the outdoor theatre was less than ideal, issues with actor microphones in a space with tricky acoustics are never a pleasant experience for actors or the audience. A number of actors in the company completely failed to adjust to the sensitive mics throughout the evening, however, and continued to screech and scream text that became entirely unintelligible as mics clipped. Regardless of technical issues that can't always be foreseen during short runs, there were also problems with comprehension as a number of actors lacked the diction that is so paramount to heightened language. A number of the company traded tone and attitude for clarity and speed and we often lost out on meaning as a result.
Strong costume design by Emma Hollows who simply but elegantly distinguishes between the two worlds. Frederick Waxman's music direction of Mendelssohn's music was the most consistent element of this production and solos by Rowan Pierce and Madison Nonoa were simply exquisite. Direction from Sam Rayner could be improved upon in a number of senses. The foreground of the set was largely unused while the background (separated from the audience by the musicians) was favoured. Furthermore, a departure from period occurs just before the interval in which actors and musicians sing and play Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On. A bold choice which some of the audience responded well to but which to me, felt completely out of left field, and, I'll say it, cheap.
As far as performances go, stand out's on the evening were Eleanor Sutton's Helena and Anna Leong Brophy's Titania/Hippolyta. The former was boisterous, modern, funny and full of conviction from her first entrance. The later was clear, powerful, and grounded. Jay Mailer's Bottom was a masterful example of performer confidence and comedic chops. His Bottom is never better than in the play within the play when he plays Pyramus with as brilliant a death scene as I've ever seen.
Runs through Saturday 1 July
Review by Matthew Pierce Photo by Nick Rutter