This year’s Torchlight Shakespeare production from A Company of Fools continues their proud tradition of fun and fast-paced classical theatre, with only a hint of growing pains as they bring new performers into their fold.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most performed plays, and in many ways is an ideal play for the outdoor performances that the Fools – and countless other companies in other cities – produce every summer. To be sitting in a green space as the sun slowly sets is a simple and beautiful way to evoke the setting of a forest outside of Athens as the characters stumble through their magical mishaps in love. Compared to many other classical scripts Dream has aged very well: there are almost no references in the text that could be construed as racist or sexist (admittedly the concept of the love potion does raise questions about consent, but Shakespeare keeps it pretty light). Finally, there’s a lot of potential for an energetic, physical staging, especially in the scenes between the quarreling lovers as both young men’s attraction transfers from Hermia to Helena.
This production of Dream nails the first two points by virtue of the performance space and the script itself (though to be fair it’s been neatly trimmed to keep a quickly moving 90-minute running time). Director Mary Ellis and the performers are responsible for the third, and they certainly do not disappoint.
Ellis’s staging is fluid and dynamic, using the outdoor space to its full potential – while the staging is largely frontal, quite a bit happens in the centre aisle and around the large area occupied by the audience. It entails a lot of running around for the actors, but they keep up an admirably strong energy throughout. Particular standouts are Mitchel Rose as Flute (with a wonderfully tremulous falsetto when he has to play the maiden Thisbe in the play-within-a-play), and Peaseblossom (the pink floral smocks for the fairies could easily be a joke in themselves, but the sheer attitude on Rose’s face as he provocatively lounges in the background of Titania and Oberon’s argument steals the show just a little bit); Sarah Finn as a relatably jaded Helena; Geoff McBride for his physical work with the donkey’s head mask/hat he must wear as Bottom; and Mahalia Golnosh Tahririha as the mischievous Puck. The aforementioned growing pains manifest in one notable way: with the exception of Tahririha, McBride, and Catriona Leger, the cast is all new to the Torchlight Shakespeare series and so aren’t as adept at projecting their voices into the open air as the veterans. For this reason I recommend arriving early to get a closer seat to the playing area, which besides the sound consideration also enables one to see up close Vanessa Imeson’s whimsical costumes (the smocks for the fairies and the Edwardian lady’s outfit for Hippolyta being my favourites).
Besides the acting, directing, and costumes, the usage of music in Dream is also a delight – the drumming that opens the performance does so in a much more immediate way than simply watching an actor walk onstage, and the solo work by Tahririha and Rose on the violin and accordion, respectively, adds so much more to the mood. Rose’s accordion provides an irreverent tone to the scenes with the rude mechanicals as well as sight gags (his clown training is apparent when he can make you laugh simply by changing notes) while Tahririha’s violin provides a more sombre, thoughtful interlude towards the end of the play. I have to give a special shoutout to composer Melissa Morris for the extremely traditional English-sounding melody for the fairies’ lullaby – unexpected, but a nice touch.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream proves that the Fools are still going strong as they recruit new faces. While the actors may have some room for improvement in adapting themselves for open-air performances, they’ve made a great start and this is one of Shakespeare’s best. Keep the dream alive by seeing this one at Strathcona Park on Mondays or any of the many other local parks this production will be visiting.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
By William Shakespeare
A Company of Fools production
July 3 – August 19, 2017
Running Time: 90 minutes
Directed by Mary Ellis
Set and Costume Design by Vanessa Imeson
Musical Composition and Direction by Melissa Morris
Props Design by Even Gilchrist
Stage Management by Katherine Dermott
Production Management by Madeleine Boyes-Manseau
Assistant Director: Nicholas Leno
Apprentice Designer: Katy Haskell
Apprentice Musical Director: Olivia Ellis
Apprentice Stage Manager: Jason Hopkins
Apprentice Front-of-House Manager: Caitlin Mears
Scenic Painter: Stephanie Dahmer-Brett
Carpenter: Jonah Lerner
Volunteer Coordinator: Shannon Leak
Starring (in alphabetical order): Leslie Cserepy, Sarah Finn, Tamara Freeman, Catriona Leger, Geoff McBride, Andrew Moore, Mitchel Rose, Mahalia Golnosh Tahririha