As the world’s most famous playwright, William Shakespeare presents a unique challenge to those who take on his works. Because his plays have been staged all over the world, in seemingly every setting imaginable, directors must often push their creative limits in order to come up with a production that stands out from the others.
Sometimes this can produce stunning results. A version of Macbeth inspired by Pink Floyd’s The Wall comes to mind. And some of the best interpretations of The Bard are the ones that remain most faithful to the original work. Sometimes, the best creative choice of all is to let the material do the talking.
But regardless of which path a director may choose, the most important thing is still the story, and how well it’s told.
Which is why Kaleidoscope Theatre’s rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream ends up missing the mark just by a bit.
Make no mistake, this is a visually and aurally stylish production. But that’s part of the problem. Director Roderick Glanville has put so much emphasis on the “dream” aspect of the play, that the actual story ends up taking a backseat.
For those unfamiliar with the play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comedy that follows a foursome of young Athenians — Demetrius, Helena, Lysander and Hermia — caught up in a love quadrangle. Lysander and Hermia are smitten with each other, but Hermia has been ordered to marry Demetrius by her mother (a change from the original work, which sees Hermia’s father giving the marriage order instead). Meanwhile, Helena pines for Demetrius’ affection, emotions which are not reciprocated. Lysander and Hermia plot to escape Athens so they can be together, and when Demetrius follows them into the woods to retrieve his betrothed, Helena gives chase as well.
At the same time Oberon, the woodland fairy king, and his queen, Titania, are in the midst of a dispute over Titania’s “changeling” child, whom Oberon wishes to have for his own. Oberon tasks his servant, a mischievous sprite named Puck, with finding a magical flower which, when sprinkled on Titania’s sleeping eyelids, will cause her to fall in love with the first creature she sees upon waking. Oberon also tells Puck to give the same treatment to a sleeping Demetrius, intending to have the man return Helena’s unrequited love. Of course, this is a comedy, and that means things don’t necessarily go as planned.
There’s also a group of labourers moonlighting as actors, rehearsing for a play that they plan to perform for the Duke. The group serves as the glue which binds the two main stories together, and their self-important mouthpiece, Bottom, provides the play with its biggest laughs.
Clearly, there’s lots happening in this script, and yet Kaleidoscope’s version feels glossed-over, with the story playing second fiddle to all the eye and ear candy that Glanville’s inserted to punch up the “dream” angle. The result is a production that feels like it’s part play and part fashion show, with fairies strutting around the stage to pulsing electronic music while songs and dances replace important soliloquies.
But there’s plenty that works, too. The all-youth cast is full of talent, and virtually all of the leads do an excellent job of bringing their characters to life. Zoë Brimacombe, a Kaleidoscope vet, gives an especially revelatory performance as the blustery, yet lovable, wannabe thespian Bottom. Michael Bell, Samantha Norton, Austin Obiajunwa and Aisling Goodman, as the four Athenian lovers, are superb as well.
And though the visuals can be distracting at times, they are indeed stunning. The costumes, especially those of the fairies, are stupendous. The lighting design is beautiful, too, strong enough to stand in for set pieces throughout the bulk of the play.
But what we’re left with is a case of style over substance. The substance is good, but there’s just not quite enough of it to make this Dream a reality. M
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Dec. 2 at 7pm,
Dec. 3 at 2pm
Tickets rmts.bc.ca or call 250-386-6121