Friday, 18 March 2016

A Midsummer Night's Dream - WAAPA (16 March 2016)

What better way to be introduced in your first public production at WAAPA than under the stars performing an enduring classic written by The Bard himself? As is the Academy’s tradition the first show for the 2nd year musical theatre students is always a non-musical and here they get to sink their teeth into Shakespeare’s oft performed and beloved comedy.

The venue was the Amphitheatre which put the focus squarely on the performers with only an empty stage and minimalist lighting and sound design to recreate the mood of the enchanted woods. Striking costuming and interesting choices in interpretation, some more successful than others, added to the world in which both humans and fairies frolicked.

The fairies were given a distinct Nordic flavour, in accent, costume, makeup and attitude. Nick Errol’s Oberon was presented as a powerful, warlike figure while Jenna Curran’s Titania had a proud, regal air. Occasionally the language didn’t sit well with the thick accents especially early on with Curran but this was a proud couple of equal footing.

Not so the status of women in the Athenian Court. The opening scene featured Hippolyta (Lucy Ross) and Hermia (Kelsi Boyden) treated like playthings to be manhandled by the men. It was quite unsettling watching Ross restrained with a stout stick across her throat while Boyden was grasped and grabbed at as ownership was discussed between Theseus (Joshua White) and Hermia’s father Egeus (Benjamin Colley).

The costuming was also in direct contrast to the fairies with the four lovers, Boyden, Monique Warren (Helena), David Cuny (Lysander), and Tom Gustard (Demetrius) given the preppy attire of a Hollywood high school comedy. They worked well together though Gustard’s Demetrius seemed overmatched in the manly stakes by Cuny’s Lysander which tended to unbalance the quartet.

The four fairies, played with relish by Mackenzie Dunn, Meg McKibbin, Laura Jackson, and Chloe Bremner, were sleekness personified in skin tight black outfits. They oscillated between being lascivious, notably when Titania seduces Bottom, to adopting the stern visage and posture of warriors within the Fairy kingdom.

Then there were the Mechanicals led by Peter Quince (Tom New) but dominated by the vainglorious Nick Bottom (Cameron Steens) and, of course, the mischievous Puck (Bailey Dunnage) whose slipups drive much of the mayhem as potent magic ensorcells Titania, Lysander and Demetrius to amusing effect.

Standouts for me were Warren who gave a Helena an exaggerated comic bent in her pursuit of Lysander and total disbelief when both he and Demetrius are compelled to pursue her. Steens plays up to the ego of Bottom with suitable flourishes while two of the Mechanicals, Finn Alexander (Francis Flute) and Daisy Valerio (Snug) have highlight moments during the play within a play. The former as he laments the death of Pyramus in dramatic counterpoint to his earlier flouncing as Thisbe; the latter with a Lion’s roar of such understatement that the audience cracked up at the delightful absurdity of it all. Luke Haberecht (Tom Snout) and Sarah Brideson (Robin Starveling) add to the mirth as Wall and Moon respectively.

Dunnage had a funny sequence as Puck scampers through the audience attempting to hide from Oberon’s wrath as things go pear shaped. He had cheekily drunk from a lady’s can of soft drink earlier and here was fascinated with random objects amongst the crowd. In fact the cast was impressive in reacting to the audience as they cavorted along the tiered seating. At one point Errol caught the magic flower thrown by Puck with some style which elicited a chuckle of approval from my good self. He turned toward me and nodded as if to say, “pretty good, hey” which was in character and a confident example of being in the moment as the cast often broke the fourth wall.  
I don’t know if I was as enamoured with the use of Nutbush City Limits in the finale. I understand the notion of updating the music to more modern times but this song with its patented dance routine seemed dated (and probably twice as old as most of the cast). The use of a track that was more recent, vital and immediate would have worked better.

Overall this was a most pleasant evening even with me making a complete ass of myself as I was dragged on stage to the strains of Tina Turner… or maybe I was simply dreaming all along.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream was written by William Shakespeare, directed by Trent Baker, and featured the second year musical theatre students in their inaugural public outing. 

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