Star-crossed lovers, unrequited desire, magic, farce, violence, and sex – Shakespeare’s summer-time romantic comedy is nothing if not diverse. Set in ancient Athens, the plot follows four lovers who battle with the forces of love, nature, civilisation, and magic to resolve their intertwining romantic conflicts. Blizzard Theatre Company presents a charming rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that is sure to strengthen with each performance.
While North Road’s Methodist Church provides an ample setting for the Athenian court, the production team have had to rise to the challenge of transporting the audience out its stone walls and into the wilderness of the forest. The play’s rural setting is firmly established through the flowers that suspend from the balcony and curl around the church’s pillars. As the play shifts into the fairy world, the cast adorns the stage itself with flowers, adding a distinct vibrancy to Shakespeare’s enchanted forest.
Technical Directors Callisto Musyck and Lamesha Ruddock brilliantly manipulate the stage’s lighting to convey the contrast between the night-world of the forest and the harsh daylight reality of Athens. The lighting works brilliantly throughout both to convey the play’s shifting tone and to add to the fairy characters’ ethereality.
Like the lighting, the production’s costumes add to the play’s establishment of character and setting. The decision to co-ordinate the dress of the young Athenian lovers, for example, draws on the ultimately exchangeable nature of their identities. The dark and somewhat sexualised dress of the fairy characters, on the other hand, immediately disperses the idea that these are the creatures of fairytales and hints at their underlying dangerous potential.
Music features heavily in the performance as Chris Larkin and Lottie Apsey provide several musical interludes. This serves to ease some of the production’s longer scene changes and, more significantly, allows for the incorporation of dance into some of the fairy scenes. Though beautifully choreographed, these dance interludes seem somewhat out of place as they clash with the production’s emphasis on the fairies’ dark identities.
A tension in the production lies in the decision to draw the interval after just fifty minutes of action. The performance pauses just as audiences begin to settle and a sense of imbalance between the play’s two halves develops as the brisk feel of the first half contrasts the play’s drawn out and considerably longer second half.
Fortunately, the strength of the play-within-the-play in the final scene helps the production overcome this structural flaw. The decision of Director Barbara Zboromyrska to sit her courtiers among the audience excellently builds a sense of the audience’s own immersion and interaction with the drama. Vital to the comedic strength of this final scene is Eleanor McIntyre’s stand out performance as the bumbling Bottom. Every time McIntyre appears on stage the audience sits up a little straighter. In the instances where the performance’s comedic power collapses, McIntyre appears to reinforce it, inspiring energy from her fellow cast members and lifting every scene in which she appears.
Equally worthy of recognition is Lisa Prescott’s Helena. While other cast members seem to recite rather than act Shakespeare’s rhythm and rhyme heavy verse, Prescott delivers her lines with poignancy and understanding. Prescott’s soliloquy in the first scene becomes key to igniting the audience’s interest in the play’s dramatic action.
Other strong performances come from Orlando Riviere and Isabelle Bruce who play the rival fairy monarchs Oberon and Titania. Not to be overlooked in the production is the wonderful choreography of their introductory scene and the power of their respective performances in it. Both actors work well to communicate both the strength and authority of these darkly dangerous rulers and the romantic undertones of their relationship.
Blizzard Theatre Company’s rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream succeeds in enchanting its audience, transporting them into the magical world of Shakespearean fantasy.
Image: Blizzard Theatre Company