Posts Tagged ‘bryony etherington’

Will Somers and Bryony Etherington (in the other cast)

Will Somers and Bryony Etherington

Just last night I realized I have seen “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” 6 times. That’s right, 6! That means consistently once every year since Grade 11. Does that make me some kind of expert on the play? Hardly, but it makes for some interesting commentary when comparing one version with another. And I don’t even care about one version being much better than the others. Rather, I like to look at the choices made by the director and the actors, and how that creates a unique performance of this play that people may have seen dozens of times. In other words, what is the artistic team doing to keep this play from becoming banal?

I managed to catch Salamander Theatre’s Shakespeare Young Company in their first indoor performance of “Dream” in the NAC 4th Stage. For most of this summer they have been performing in various parks and secret locations around Ottawa, earning their keep by passing the hat after the show has concluded. This company is very special because it provides opportunities for young actors (teens to twenties) to work intimately with Shakespeare’s text, and because they use the entire text for their productions. And that is why I uneasy about the idea of them putting on “Hamlet,” which can amount to 4 hours in its entirety.

I should also note that this production has two casts, which means that certain actors may be playing entirely different roles depending on which performance you choose to attend. Tuesday’s performance featured Tom Blazejewicz as both Duke Theseus and Bottom the Weaver… and you can figure out the rest when you look at the program. And here is a brief plot synopsis.

Now, let’s take a look at what made this production interesting…

1) Hermia’s father, Egeus, is wearing a zanni commedia dell’arte mask

This may have been simply to hide the fact that the actress playing Egeus was also playing two other characters. But so were several other members of the cast, so I’m not sure why that would have been an issue here. Also, I’m not convinced that the mask was chosen correctly because a zanni character in Italian comedy is supposed to be a servant, not the master of a household. I think this choice could have worked if more characters had been in mask. As it stood, I found it rather random.

2) Helena is pregnant

Wondering why Helena wanted Demetrius so bad? She needs a daddy for her unborn child, of course! I really enjoyed this choice because I found it gave Helena’s character an entirely new level, and increased her desperation to have Demetrius as husband. Not only was her love at stake, but also her reputation and her baby. However, considering the time of the play, I’m not sure how realistic it would have been for a pregnant girl in Elizabethan times to be let out of her house, let alone tramping (ahem) around the woods at night. Also, the text makes a direct reference to her virginity: the actor speaking that line tried to make it seem accidental or ironic, but the play didn’t seem to support it fully. But, like I said, I thought Helena’s onstage pregnancy was an fascinating experiment.

3) Robin Goodfellow (or Puck) is played as two characters, by two actors

I’ve been searching through my first folio (Shakespeare’s original text) just now, and still have not figured out the mystery of that “shrew and knavish spirit.” Director Eleanor Crowder explained to me that Robin Goodfellow and Puck appear to be two separate entities, each with distinct characteristics. According to a Wikipedia page, Puck is an aspect of Robin Goodfellow, and not necessarily the same being. True enough, in Shakespeare’s folio, there is Robin who speaks a number of lines and Puck who speaks the rest. However, also in the folio it is mentioned, for example, that Puck enters – but it is Robin Goodfellow who speaks the lines. Is it presumed that if one enters the other one is present? Or are they, in fact, the same person? After all, Bottom is also referred to as “Clowne,” but that doesn’t mean he is two people. If anybody else is more knowledgeable in this topic, I would certainly appreciate some insight.

Having Puck played by two actors created an interesting dynamic when it came to playing tricks on the Queen of Fairies, Titania. They name themselves Peaseblossom and Mustard-seed, and have a grand ol’ time entertaining the Queen’s new bed-fellow, Bottom in an ass-head. But then I thought perhaps some magic is lost in not having just the one, unique spirit. Just like the emcee in “Cabaret” — could you ever imagine his likeness?

4) Double Casting

I’ve already mentioned that the Robin/Puck duo played fairies, but they also played members of the mechanicals and the royal court. In fact, all the roles – excluding the 4 lovers – were doubled or tripled among the cast members. This offered these aspiring actors ample challenges by playing numerous parts, and provided some complex stage relationships for the audience. For example, it is referenced that Titania once had a crush on Theseus: and the same actor playing Theseus also plays Bottom, who becomes Titania’s bestial lover. Pretty clever, eh? If you know the play well enough, you’ll be able to make all sorts of fun connections like that.

5) Sounds Effects and Vocals

The cast has clearly been sharply trained musically. Perhaps my knowledge of musicality is limited, but to my untrained ear, their choral work was both energetic and tuneful. Bouncing melodies introduced us to most new scenes, and the songs found in the original text were incorporated beautifully. The only bits I found distracting were the bursts of “fairy power” that punctured Titania’s “These are the forgeries of jealousy” speech. I was keen on listening to the beautiful language, but was turned off by the excessive movement and sounds. This play is filled with gorgeous speeches, but I felt this production focused more on the comic elements – which, despite my longing for a slightly more elegant delivery, worked just fine.

In terms of a brief critique, I was very impressed by most of the performances and how they used the intimate cabaret space to their advantage. I was much less impressed by the actors playing the lovers (Hermia, Lysander, Helena, and Demetrius) because I felt they lacked any sort of sincerity in their roles: the girls were melodramatic, and the guys were emotionless logs. I found myself looking forward to the mechanicals and the fairies, all of whom were very appealing performers – especially Anna Lewis as Titania and Will Somers as Oberon and Snug (the lion).

Salamander Theatre’s Shakespeare Young Company presents A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the NAC 4th Stage until August 30th. Check out http://www.salamandertheatre.ca for more details.

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