After another summer filled with trips to Shaw and Stratford—where the results were as diverse as the productions; cross-references below—it was a great pleasure to witness the Victoria Theatre Guild’s spirited presentation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Staged in the ever-so-intimate confines of Victoria’s Langham Court Theatre (the initial play of its 80th season!), it was instructive to see, hear and feel just how good amateur theatre can be. As with many choirs and a few orchestras, just because the cast and crew volunteer their time in no way reflects on the potential for performances and production values that would be a credit to any professional company.
Better still, the capacity audience—while clearly having friends, relatives and teachers on stage—acquitted itself better than the patrons of many higher-priced venues. Once the lights went down, there was nothing but rapt attention, laughs/applause when warranted and nary an electronic interruption by cell phone, beeper or failed hearing aid. These days, that’s as rare as a 5-star show!
Director Valerie Chatteron has made the most of the abilities of her energetic players and given them a fairly free rein to enjoy the wit, wisdom and wackiness of this tale (narrative and donkey) of misplaced affections, heart-changing potions and a play-within-the-play that foreshadows much of Monty Python’s favourite gags/drags (cross-dressing being as old as the charter members of the Friends of Dorothy).
The obvious standout in this performance was Graeme Nathan as Puck. Here’s a faerie that drew no sniggers as his physique, athleticism and deft delivery of the demanding part ably glued the amorous misadventures and happy-ever-after resolution together.
James Roney’s Bottom/Pyramus was too-loud-by-half yet delighted the crowd with his extra slice of ham. The duelling suitors (Ryan Say – Demetrius; Henry Skey – Lysander) were evenly matched and managed to throw each other around the stage without breaking any limbs or revealing their nether regions. (Still, the missing sandals—male and female—will remain a puzzle).
As the dual ruler (Oberon/fairies; Theseus/humans) Evan Roberts nailed the majesty but without the costume change it would have been otherwise difficult to tell which domain was which.
His other halves (Titania/Hippolyta respectively) were more distinct as crafted by Caroline MacKenzie (her horniness/haughtiness delineation was simply marvellous).
In the fair damsel department, Lindsay Alley (Helena) had just a slight edge over Melissa Blank (Hermia) due in large part to the Bard’s lines.
Of the supporting roles, Sylvie Lariviere’s onion-eating Snout and fully draped Wall showed a comic gift that ought to be nurtured; Alex Rand’s Lion also had much to admire and John Gilliland’s Moonshine lit up the room with every hysterical beam.
On the production side of the ledger, Bill Adam’s easily-revolving set would be the envy of most larger troupes. Having real music (notably Perchance and Rebecca Delancey’s Celtic harps) added a presence that quickly washed away the synthetic tracks that necessarily rounded out the other sonic voids. Margaret McCullough’s costumes fit the bill (and the girls behind me positively drooled at every bare chest) while Karrie Wolfe’s lighting design hit nearly every cue (there’s more magic required in the booth than even Oberon could muster).
The time vanished happily (always a good sign) and I left the theatre cheered by this high level of dedication and artistry, knowing that 400+ years later, Shakespeare’s singular understanding of the perils and passions of human existence still has much to say even as the theatre-of-the-absurd plays to capacity houses on Wall Street.
Here’s to the next 80 years! JWR