A Midsummer Night's Dream | Black Swan State Theatre CompanyLeft – Shubhadra Young, Alison van Reeken and Arielle Gray. Cover – Arielle Gray and Stuart Halusz. Photos – Gary Marsh.

A play there is, my lord, some ten words long,

Which is as brief as I have known a play;
But by ten words, my lord, it is too long,
Which makes it tedious; for in all the play
There is not one word apt, one player fitted:
And tragical, my noble lord, it is;
For Pyramus therein doth kill himself.
Which, when I saw rehearsed, I must confess,
Made mine eyes water; but more merry tears
The passion of loud laughter never shed.
William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

If you want a crowd-pleasing play, you really can’t go past William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It contains all his greatest themes: courtly love, spurned rivals, feuding royals mixed with a dash of the supernatural. Premiering at the State Theatre Centre, Black Swan State Theatre Company’s latest production of this perennial classic is a sumptuous but ultimately uneven show that only manages to sustain the audience’s good will through liberal doses of well-applied humour.

For the uninitiated, A Midsummer Night’s Dream follows four interwoven stories; the union of Theseus and Hippolyta of Athens, the thwarted unions of Hermia, Lysander and their friends Helena and Demetrius, the tempestuous relationship between Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the fairies and the rehearsal shenanigans of the Mechanicals, a group of Athenian tradesman hoping to stage a play for Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding.

The action begins in Athens, where Lysander (Scott Sheridan) and Hermia (Adriane Daff) have been banned from pursuing their relationship, upon pain of death. They decide to flee Athens but only make it as far as the forest. Following them is the spurned Demetrius (James Beck) and lovelorn Helena (Elizabeth Blackmore). The lovers inadvertently cross paths with Puck (Stuart Halusz), servant to Oberon (Kenneth Ransom), who is busy resolving a custody dispute with Titania (Alison van Reeken). Also visiting the forest are the Mechanicals, who are using the wilderness as their rehearsal venue. Supernatural hi jinks and mischief ensue.

It must be said, the real highlight of this production is the design. Utilising the Heath Ledger Theatre to its full extent, Christina Smith has created a brilliant set. Her Athenian court is minimalist and simplistic, reflecting the views of those that inhabit it. As the action transitions away from the court, the entire floor space is then lifted, revealing the woolly, floral undergrowth of the forest, which previously had only dared to peek onto the stage. It is a wild space, representative of the earthy Oberon and his ethereal counterpart Titania, into who’s domain the hapless citizens have travelled. This design was supported spectacularly by Graham Walne and Trent Suidgeest’s stunning lighting and Alicia Clements’ delightful costumes, which brought additional life, colour and dimension to the forest floor.

Unfortunately, that same amount of life and dimension was not reflected in all the performances, which for the most part seemed repetitive and unable to elevate the text with life. Notably, Myles Pollard struggled as Theseus, and of the young lovers, only Scott Sheridan managed to inject any charm and likeability into his performance as Lysander. Stuart Halusz brought much needed energy and accessibility to the fairy realm, which seemed inhibited by a lack of clarity and pace. I think this was perhaps due to the physical movement choices with the spirits, which was distancing, distracting and unnecessary.

Director Kate Cherry is excellent at creating atmosphere and mood through sound scapes, scene scapes, physicality and a naturalistic approach to characterisation; however I felt that with these sections of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it was detrimental to the pacing and enjoyment of the action. The only scene that really sparked from these story lines was the second half altercation between the four lovers.

That being said, inexplicably, the above issues did not apply to the Mechanicals; their physicality and humour became entertaining and their scenes skipped along merrily with life. With a mixture of deft characterisation, broad and clever comedy, they were by far my favoured storyline, to the point where three quarters of way through the first half, when the pacing dropped, I longed for their return. Kelton Pell, Luke Hewitt and Sam Longley deserve special mentions for their scene stealing, hysteria inducing performances in the final act.

And that was essentially the problem; for a show that aimed to explore the balance between the dichotomies of our existence; the everyday and the supernatural, repression and freedom, man versus woman, it was unbalanced, uneven and at times, dull. However, by curtain call, you were positively reeling with laughter from the genius work of Longley and Hewitt. The brilliant comedic performances of the Mechanicals and sumptuous set, costume and lighting designs ultimately saved A Midsummer Night’s Dream from itself and left a more positive overall impression of the production than it perhaps merited.

Black Swan State Theatre Company presents
A Midsummer Night's Dream
by William Shakespeare

Director Kate Cherry

Venue: Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA
Dates: 7 – 22 May, 2011
Duration: approx. 2 hrs 30 min (incl. interval)
Tickets: Standard: $64.50, Concession: $49.50
Bookings: www.bocsticketing.com.au

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