Review By Lisa Lanzi
Using a young cast with varying theatrical stage experience, director Megan Dansie has crafted a streamlined version of The Dream at The Little Theatre, an intimate space within The University of Adelaide. This production also captures elements of rawness and a responsiveness to the audience that the comedy would originally have exhibited. Often considered a ‘soft’ entry into Shakespeare’s world, A Midsummer Night’s Dream still has much to offer contemporary viewers when presented, as this director did, with gusto and a commitment to the sensuality, innuendo, and absurdity within the text.
Another appropriate aspect of Dansie’s direction, and mirroring Peter Brook’s choices from the famous 1970s version, is the doubling of Titania/Theseus (Annie Matsouliadis) and Oberon/Hippolyta (Bronwyn Palmer) with two capable female performers in the roles. Some analyses of The Dream point to the faerie realm as a base reflection of the ‘civilised’ Athens but both realms portray patriarchal dominion over females. Both Theseus and Oberon attempt to shape their partners through commands or subterfuge to be more compliant and the inequality is never resolved. Palmer and Matsouliadis skilfully take on the dual roles with excellent vocal and physical talents and convincing gravitas or lightness as required. Palmer is also responsible for the excellent movement direction that shines throughout the production and elevates the impact of the entire play.
The multiple entrance and exit points and dual level performing space was a perfect environment for the action of The Dream. Dansie and the cast made the most of these, particularly evident when the faerie characters could perch on high to view the mortals or for the requisite forest frolics and chase scenes. Richard Parkhill’s lighting design complemented the spare black box style spaces decorated with cog designs. The latter referencing the ‘rude mechanicals’ I presume but also a nod to the steampunk-inspired costuming and agreeably non-gauzy faerie attire. Another delightful motif was the use of sunglasses donned by the faerie-folk to render themselves ‘invisible’.
Puck, as delivered beautifully by Frederick Pincombe, was a mischievous but intelligent nature-sprite exhibiting both shrewd comebacks and a calm gentility. Finty McBain gave us an impassioned Helena and her expressive stage presence was notable. Hermia was portrayed by Airlie Windle, Lysander by Reuben Fernee and Demetrius by Ashraf Abdul Halim in his first ever stage appearance. Windle and Fernee were less convincing at the most emotional points when their voices (as well as those of a few other performers) became somewhat shrill and unclear but the foursome did pull together in some scenes to successfully convey the anguish of the thwarted and confused lovers.
Bottom, Quince, Flute, Snug and Snout (Matthew Huston, Emily Dalziel, Karma Duffield, Charlotte Minney, Sophie Caon) made for a fun and eccentric troupe hilariously attempting to perform the play-within-a-play of Pyramus and Thisbe with its defining portrayal of love as all-conquering and everlasting, even after death - but let’s not delve into the generational animosity in the story that quite possibly inspired Romeo and Juliet. Matthew Houston is an accomplished actor who segued from the self-important Bottom to the love-struck Ass with glee and certainly had the audience in his thrall with some witty asides. However, Houston’s larger-than-life presence, and his richly resonant voice, did pull focus at times during some scenes.
The inexperience of some cast members was noticeable at times but it did not diminish enjoyment of the production. It was clearly evident that the ensemble was cohesive and connected and their energy was definitely infectious - no pun intended in these trying times. The pace for the most part was excellent, keeping the audience’s attention and conveying urgency when necessary. It was also wonderful to see the humour in the tale (both textual and physical) brought forth, although just a little more emotional contrast would have been welcome to explore darker moments for some of the characters.
Huge congratulations to the University of Adelaide Theatre Guild team for continuing to provide opportunities for actors at all levels and for contributing to a rich and continuing Arts landscape in Adelaide.