Thursday, June 27, 2019

UVic dresses up A Midsummer Night’s Dream in ’70s clothes for big win

November 7, 2014 by Mac Clohan, contributing writer

William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a staple of the stage, particularly amongst university players. The script is fast-paced, zany, and supercharged with sexuality and angst; an absurd story of young lovers whose love is unrequited and prohibited.  One couple runs away into the forest to elope, the other couple follows to stop them.  Oh, and there just happens to be a Fairy “war” going in the woods, and a bunch of “mechanicals” who are poorly rehearsing for an upcoming play. An average Thursday, really.

Is that a punk lurking in the background? (Photo provided.)

The challenge is how do you separate this UVic Phoenix Theatre presentation of Midsummer from the legions that came before?  Director Fran Gebhard decided to set the play in 1970s New York City and cast the young lovers as upper crust, WASP-y types, the mechanicals as blue-collar workers with heavy accents, and the fairies as punks and hippies.

Now, I’m skeptical of modernizing a Shakespeare play to any time that’s not right now.  The 1970s were four decades ago, so you lose any immediacy of the references, and the actors still have to stretch to embrace a culture that’s not theirs. Overall though, the transposition was successful and led to a fresh and sprite rendition of the old classic.

The setting also allowed for a terrific wardrobe. From the tennis whites of the young lovers to the bellbottoms and plaid pants, every costume design was spot on. The young lover’s tennis outfits made clever use of colour and length to keep the characters cohesive yet unique. Bellbottoms, tiny headbands, and flowing gowns adorned the hippies and provided a great visual foil to the black, tight, stitched, and loud punk outfits. The character of Hippolyta had a show-stealer of an outfit in the penultimate scene. An alluring and suggestive riding outfit/business suit, it really helped flesh out a character with limited lines and stage time.

The play benefited immensely from strong performances all round. Many productions of Midsummer have been bogged down from a weak link in the various plots. In particular, the quartet of the young lovers, anchored by an especially strong Helena (Sarah Cashin), was excellent. The profession scene, where both men are under a love spell and pursue a disbelieving Helena as Hermia watches in anger and disgust, was the highlight of the night. Bang-on timing, crisp delivery, and slick blocking truly made this scene something special.

Usually dependable for a good laugh, the mechanicals were also spot on. The dynamic and chemistry between Peter Quince (Francis Melling) and Bottom (Sean Dyer) was great a source of comedic tension. There was full commitment and energy to the overtop performances demanded by these roles. The closing play-within-a-play deservedly got the biggest laughs of the night, and was a satisfying end to the show.

A few unfocused scenes with the punk posse had some clunky blocking and the lighting was surprisingly bland for a play with this much emotional oscillation, but these minor defects were easily overlooked in the grand scheme of the show.

This interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream should appeal to Shakespeare novices and stalwarts alike. Strong performances, excellent costumes, and a few surprising and delightful musical numbers make for terrific theatre. The Bard would be proud.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Until November 22
UVic Phoenix Theatre, $16-$24
Ticket info here

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