Staging a beloved and classic work of theatre such as Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is no easy task. For some theatregoers, they may feel as though they’ve seen it all before. For some, it might simply remind them of their Grade 8 English syllabus. Exit 22 Company Productions’ Director Bob Frazer is a veteran of Vancouver’s annual ode to Shakespeare, Bard On The Beach. In his Director’s Note, he outlines that his goal with this student production was to focus on spontaneity, humour and a love of the mystical. And it certainly did just that.
Before even the first line was uttered, Capilano University’s theatre students opened the show with a haunting and well-choreographed (Keri Minty) prelude, introducing the characters and the unique spin on era and setting, which seemed to be an eerie old-timey circus. The music throughout the show could possibly be described as gothic electro-jazz. Frazer stated in his notes that he wanted to “make the fairies more “magically human” and the king and queen of the human world more “flamboyant”… Circus freaks/performers, rock stars and ethereal beings of light and dark all started to inhabit [his] mind in the most beautiful and fun way.”
…there was a notable sense of extravagance that defies any single time period
The audience was introduced to Puck and his faeries as Alex from Clockwork Orange-esque characters, and were styled as rather creepy and dark. Confusingly, Titania and Oberon were costumed in plainer modern day clothing, as were the four lovers and nobility, possibly with a hint of steampunk Hot Topic edge circa 2008. The circus freaks (the craftsmen) were costumed impressively and elaborately, complete with a woman with lobster claws and stilts.
I am unsure how generic leather-clad rock stars, modern day twenty-somethings, and early 20th century circus freaks all come together to convey one unified theme or idea but there was a notable sense of extravagance that defies any single time period. In my favourite piece of costuming, Bottom’s transformation did not disappoint. Much like the set, his mask was industrial, simple, and sleek, featuring metal looking wiring wrapping around his head in the shape of a donkey’s head.
…it felt like we were happily watching the play-within-a-play along with the rest of the cast
The set (Carolyn Ramos) was absolutely gorgeous and itself one of the stars of the show. It featured tall industrial looking metal beams, and a round platform in the centre of the stage was often used to symbolize the circularity of the characters’ actions in the play. There were soft stars against a navy blue sky projected on the cyc giving the feeling of indeed jumping into the world of this magical midsummer’s night. One of the dangling chandelier-style lights lent itself to a few comedic moments (whether accidental or purposely blocked) during the play when characters would either smack into or swerve to narrowly miss the low-hanging light.
Some memorable moments in performances were Yukon de Leeuw’s Flute/Thisbe, where his lankiness lent itself wonderfully to hilarious gangly movement and stage-running. Charlene Bayer’s imitation of a dog delighted the audience, and her endearing and somewhat sassy portrayal of Helena as a whole deserves a nod. Finally, Hunter Golden’s portrayal of Bottom/ Pyramus was the highlight of the show. His physicality was expert, his delivery of lines was engaging and strong, and his comedic timing was always on. By the end of the show, the audience was completely rooting for the Bottom and the craftsmen’s play, and it felt like we were happily watching the play-within-a-play along with the rest of the cast.
Who says magic has to make sense?
There were many enjoyable parts to this production, and the technical aspects of it were near flawless. Unfortunately, the four lovers had almost no chemistry with each other, as friends or lovers, but each one of them was absolutely likeable in their own way. The choreography and musical moments, especially the lovely wedding dance and the opening number, were an excellent choice of storytelling. The aesthetic of the magical conflict between light and dark came through at times, but was perhaps not focused enough to make a lot of sense through odd costuming and characterization. That being said, who says magic has to make sense? I appreciated the flamboyance and the reimagining of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a new and unique way. All the performers involved each got at least one moment to really shine in the spotlight, and as a complete production, this piece of theatre was definitely more light than dark.
Coming up in March at Exit 22 Company Productions:
Anne of Green Gables
Thursday, March 15 – Saturday, March 24 2018
Find more info here.