A Midsummer Night’s Dream, dir. Danielle Irvine, July 21, 2018 at Perchance Theatre in Cupids (NL)
Reviewed by Tracy O’Brien
Perchance is an open-air theatre modeled after Shakespeare’s Globe, and was built with local wood and sail canvas in 2010 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of John Guy’s settlement in the area. Nestled in the trees at the end of a grassy field in Cupids, Perchance Theatre is an idyllic setting for Shakespeare’s story of fantasy, trickery, and love, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The play is uniquely relevant to local audiences because of its fairies. These are not the sprites of Neverland, but of Newfoundland and European lore. They are mischievous, untrustworthy, and spectral. They can be seen and unseen at will, and can freeze time, humans, and each other as they see fit.
The fairies enter from the shadows, clad in leaves and vines – they climb and crawl along the balcony, the ground, and the stage, swaying as Oberon (Paul Wilson) and Titania (Alexis Koetting) make their entrance. The tension between the fairy king and queen is palpable; we know they are arguing over a changeling boy, but we also get the sense that this confrontation is just one episode of a larger off-stage competition for power. Wilson and Koetting lock their gazes on each other to the detriment of their underlings whom they dismissively paralyze with a magical swish of their hands. The fairy actors demonstrate impressive focus and athleticism in this scene as they are frozen mid-move, some of them holding planks and squats for several minutes. When released, the sprites’ movements are synced to the delicate ethereal chimes of a metallophone. This production is as aural as it is visual, with Sound Designer George Robertson creating accompaniment that is as subtle and spellbinding as the fairies themselves.
It is always interesting to see how directors and actors stage the characters of the in-play theatre troupe. As one of the mechanicals, Greg House is priceless. His Bottom goes from overly ambitious would-be star to ignorant ass to humbled actor, and his buffoonery, misreadings, and misinterpretations had the theatre in stitches. The troupe’s scenes were so marvelously absurd that I could not wait to see their performance of The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe at the end of the production. Often coming across as more corny than comic in other productions, this play-within-a-play was a highlight of Perchance’s Dream.
As is the standard for Perchance, the actors play dual roles in this production. This doubling sometimes runs the risk of creating confusion among audience members if costumes or characters are not easily distinguishable. No such confusion occurs in Dream, however, as Artistic Director Danielle Irvine directs scenes and settings that are visually and aurally discrete. It is a testament to her mastery that she does this while maintaining the fluidity of scene changes. In the playbill, Irvine writes that it is a goal of Perchance to “build a top-notch classical theatre company in Cupids that is still simple and direct in practice.” This goal appears to have driven her direction of Dream, as the plot is demystified for viewers by clear and precise linguistic expression, body language, choreography, costumes, props, and sound effects. A number of audience members commented that though they were unfamiliar with the play, they easily understood and enjoyed everything that was going on.
Returning spectators will recognize many cast members. Notably, Erin Mackey, as Helena, was spectacular. Mackey is in her fifth season with the theatre, and while she has improved every year, she returns this summer after two semesters at the National Theatre School of Canada with more charisma and confidence than ever. Her Helena is desperate, shameless, hopeless, and hilarious. Contemptible though Demetrius’ (Mahalis Barry) behaviour may be, one cannot help but feel pity for him as he fails to escape her pursuit and adulation.
The other crowd favourite in this play is Robin Goodfellow. Andrew Tremblett captures all of the spirit of this fairy: he is quick, clever, impish, and nimble. Tremblett’s expression makes you believe you share a secret with him. His natural rapport with the audience and ability to appear on stage seemingly from nowhere make him an irresistibly charming Puck. Evidently others in the theatre shared this opinion of Tremblett and the entire cast as his closing monologue was cut off by applause and a standing ovation from the full house.
The theatre is best enjoyed if you bring along sunscreen and a hat for day shows, and a blanket or sweater for evenings. Since we have entered mosquito season, a generous dose of DEET will never go astray, particularly for evening performances.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues until August 26. For more information, visit www.perchancetheatre.com or phone 1-709-771-2930.