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Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Playhouse Theatre

Review by Gemma Keliher


Queensland Ballet boldly takes on Shakespeare’s comedic classic, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, bringing us into a fun and fantastical world. A co-production between Queensland Ballet and Royal New Zealand Ballet that premiered in New Zealand in 2015 before crossing over in 2016, its reappearance is warmly welcomed. Liam Scarlett’s reimagining takes some small liberties with story and characters to adapt the various plots that are interwoven across one midsummer evening, creating an easily digestible show that isn’t reliant on the complex language associated with Shakespeare’s texts. 


From the opening moments I was enamoured with the world we were brought into, with a glowing forest backed by a star-filled night sky, and no shortage of sparkle on costumes that all worked to create a twinkling, enchanted place. A flurry of fairies welcomes us as we are then introduced to Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the fairies, who are quickly in contention over a young Changeling found in the forest. After losing possession of the youth to Titania, Oberon enlists the fairy Puck to help him in his revenge. Meanwhile, a group of explorers have entered to forest in search of magical creatures. Amongst them are the lovers Lysander and Hermia, tailed by Demetrius, who is also in love with Hermia, and Helena, who pines after Demetrius. Throughout one evening, the mischievous Puck, armed with a magical flower that can spell anyone sleeping to fall in love with who or what they first see upon waking, creates chaos for all that is eventually resolved in happy endings for our lovers. 


Scarlett’s choreography leans heavily on physical comedy, often verging into slapstick, while retaining a level of elegance that you wouldn’t normally associate with the comedy form. It allowed the Queensland Ballet dancers to all explore technique and style, with graceful movement meeting humour characterisations. This cast excelled in their individual roles, and I was impressed with how difficult it made finding any favourites. Certainly, the crowd favourite was the impishly cheeky Puck, with Kohei Iwamoto showing impeccable comedic timing and being so light and nimble on his feet you may consider him to actually be part fairy. In the royal roles of Titania and Oberon, Lucy Green and Joel Woellner made a magnificent pair that certainly held the air of grace required. They both brought strength to the characters, and I enjoyed the subtle shifts into a softer side of Woellner’s Oberon. As our explorers caught in various love triangles, Chiara Gonzalez and Alexander Idaszak as Hermia and Lysander made a sweet pair, juxtaposed by the humorous nature of the relationship between Georgia Swan’s Helena and Vito Bernasconi’s Demetrius. Swan showed impressive comedic skill in her bold character choices and physical comedy work. Also showing his comedic skill was Rian Thomson as Bottom, our explorer turned donkey. With impressive high kicks and animal gestures, there was no shortage of chuckles even in moments that left me wondering how he could perform so well in a full head mask. The rest of the ensemble brought huge amounts of energy, with the explorers reminding me of Peter Pan’s lost boys, and the fairies bringing their own mischievous energy lead by the lead fairies Laura Tosar, Isabella Swietlicki, Sophie Zoricic, and Paige Rochester.


Tracy Grant Lord’s set design gloriously brought this fantasy world to life and was particularly clever in its design to provide opportunities to elevate choreography with multiple levels and hidden access points. I especially enjoyed the suspended bridge between the trees, and the highest level on the stage that we saw Puck sliding down from, and even somewhat terrifyingly swinging down from a rope. The forest truly seemed alive and aglow with luminous plant life, twinkling fairy lights, and softly glowing stage lights thanks to Kendall Smith’s lighting design. Smith’s lighting design also aided the bedazzled costumes of the woodland creatures, with the fairies, and their King and Queen, twinkling constantly on stage. The costumes, designed by Tracy Grant Lord, might just be some of my favourites for an ensemble overall. Not only are the designs stunning, but each costume seemed so thoughtfully planned and completely transformed the dancers into their characters.  Further bringing this world to life was Felix Mendelssohn’s music, arranged and conducted by Nigel Gaynor, and performed by Camerata – Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra. Gaynor and the Camerata never seem to fail in bringing beautiful scores to life that show the impact a live orchestra makes to performance. 


A Midsummer Night’s Dream was completely magical in every way and captured the whimsical nature of fairytales. For those that might not look fondly back on their English classes and are apprehensive about a Shakespeare, I’m a firm believer that Shakespeare’s work is designed to be heard not read, and this performance firmly fits in the former. With its beautiful staging and fun characters, this is a thoroughly enjoyable production with storytelling at its forefront, that is particularly suitable to introduce new audiences both to ballet and the works of Shakespeare. 


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