Review by Stephanie Rillo
Be transported through time and space to a magical, Shakespearean world where dreams and reality collide. The Elizabethan comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been adapted into an opera and is performing at the Festival Theatre for The Adelaide Festival. At just under three hours long, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an ethereal experience that will have you mesmerised – with a few giggles interspersed.
I was unsure of how eloquently the English language would blend with an operatic style, having only been aware of more traditional opera from Italy in the past, and thus apprehensive at how well I would focus on the music if I could understand (and focus on) all the words. Thankfully, the lyrics are straight from Shakespeare’s vocabulary and filled with all the ‘thou’, ‘thee’ and ‘thy’ you can handle, so I could hardly understand the lyrics anyway. This allowed me to focus on the actual music and the emotion conveyed through this music – and what beautiful music it was. It was also certainly helpful to have accompanying captions near the roof of the stage so I could still follow the plot with ease. The opera is performed in two parts with a short intermission in between. While the plot is classic and the comedy deeply embedded through both storyline and dialogue, I found that some of the jokes were lost in translation between the older language and the solemn opera singing. This play was originally written to be performed through dialogue, and that is how I find it translates best. This is emphasized in the second half of the production, which is heavily reliant on comedic value, after most storylines are tied up. The second half is shorter in length, but feels equally as long, if not longer.
The grand, operatic style does have its benefits though. The characters are taken to another level and given more complexity that would otherwise be missed in a traditional adaptation. Mark Coles Smith is mischievous and playful as Puck. A stand-out narrator who speaks in a singsong way but focuses his efforts on working the stage and captivating the audience with his boy-like charm. Rachelle Durkin and Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen as Titania and Oberon, respectively, command the stage whenever they’re on it with regality and grace. The quality of singing from the Fairy King and Queen are fantastic also, filled with emotion which really drives the narrative forward. Everybody on the cast did a great job in their roles, but it was these three that shone brightest on stage. Oh, and credit must be given to a very good boy – Lock the black Labrador – who was so well behaved on stage and captured the audience’s hearts from the first tail wag.
Quintessential to this production were the costumes, and some stood out more than others. Oberon and Titania stunned in their ethereal, majestic, intricately designed costumes – the latter most so, emphasized by her delicate movement on stage. Their fairy children looked simple enough to let the main cast take precedence but detailed enough to give them their own defining presence. This theme carried into their singing as well, which was angelic and harmonised to create a serene atmosphere but didn’t overpower the central characters either. The other main cast – Hermia, Helena, Demetrius, Lysander, plus Nick Bottom and his actor friends – were dressed in the style of the 1960s, a creative choice that I didn’t quite understand. It certainly adds depth to the passage of time within the story, emphasized when traditional Ancient Grecian fashion makes a (meta) appearance at the end of the show, and it is a heavy contrast to the otherworldly costumes worn by the fairy monarchs, but it detracted from the overall charm of the production in my opinion. Modernity
Disclaimer: A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the first opera I have ever attended. I am not an opera expert by any stretch of the imagination, and so opera-fanatics may experience something completely different to myself. For regular theatre lovers however, A Midsummer Night’s dream is a lovely night out that offers a taste of the quality theatre that Adelaide has missed for so long and so desperately needs.