22-30 Aug, 1500 (1605) @ C Chambers Street
By Danielle Farrow
This production of Shakespeare’s Dream has qualities fitting to such a fantasy in costume, backdrop, and fairies aplenty. It also retains enough of Shakespeare’s text, in traditional order, to be a cut-down version rather than one of the many varying adaptations out there. It would really help, therefore, if those responsible for deciding that this young cast should take on the Bard’s play had made sure their actors were equipped to bring such characters and language to life.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream sees various lovers face spells, duels and other fairy hoodwinks, while some would-be actors (the ’mechanicals’) try to rehearse their play in the midst of further spritely hokum. It is full of poetry as well as converging storylines. Some of this beautiful language should be delivered to the audience, but that does not mean throwing everything at the poor viewers willy-nilly, even the parts that are truly dialogue – a stylistic choice which did not help young actors struggling to show any true thought or meaning in their declamations. They should be encouraged to really listen and respond to each other, an essential part of acting whatever the play. At least some of the mechanicals’ scenes showed better connection between the actors, though direction remained relatively staid in exploring the comedy of these characters.
Voices were already suffering – it may be colds were also at play, but these actors were mainly not on their voices. Supporting the breath is important for stage, and it is not just young performers that suffer for lack of it, but tackling Shakespeare’s long thoughts and lines without such support really shows weaknesses – sentences and ideas were badly broken up for lack of breath, and this was made worse by cuts that destroyed sense. Much of the poetry of the Dream was lost to these cuts, probably imposed due to time constraints, and yet explanatory narrative remained which was a reiteration of what the audience had already seen and understood and therefore superfluous. Possibly this remained where poetry did not as a silent acknowledgement of the limitations of the cast.
There were, however, some decent skills on view: Puck’s dance abilities; the general dance and song sequences of the fairies reasonably handled; physical humour in fight sequences (again badly hacked in dialogue); a few actors showing some feeling for their roles or for good comedy delivery. The delivery of lines, however, in both actors’ skills and chosen style of direction, shows this company is not ready to bring to life its chosen piece.
Youth alone is not responsible for the difficulties here, nor attempts at adapting Shakespeare, as shown by two other ‘youth-full’ plays at the same venue: The Venetian Twins is an example of what fine direction can achieve, and A Midsummer Night’s Madness an example of strong skills in an innovative adaptation of the very same Dream. The problem here mainly lies in the direction and training given for tackling “this weak and idle theme”.