Project Arts Centre, Dublin
May 31-Jun 18
My review of Loose Canon’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream? coming up just as soon as I have had a most rare vision ...
On paper, the repertoire of Loose Canon is a vast and adventurous one. The theatre company have refined an aesthetic over the past fifteen years approaching texts from the English renaissance and more contemporary canons and tearing them from their traditional contexts. The manner of A Midsummer Night’s Dream? – their latest reboot – fun and imaginative as it is, may not fit well with the traditional Shakespeare die-hards among us, instead looking to appease the spectator who wants an original and modern visit of this text.
Director Jason Byrne draws on the ‘black box’ style of an unadorned stage, enshrining the set with walls of white blankets. A table full of teacups, spirits, and turntables constitutes the only piece of set. The show starts with Quince and his craftsmen preparing for their play about the story of Pyramus and Thisbe – an appropriate opening ceremony for the evening of self-reflexive performance to follow. They watch footage of a traditional performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – a scene depicting Theseus, the Duke of Athens, issuing an ultimatum to Hermia to reconsider her empty feelings about Demetrius or face her father’s punishment. Hermia (Caitriona Ni Mhurchu) and Lysander (Barry O’Connor) – the man she truly loves – plan to escape Athens and marry secretly, prompting the lovesick Helena (Lousie Lewis) to tell Demetrius (Phil Kingston) of their intentions, both of whom take to the woods after them. The cast then do a hat-trick, don plastic fairy wings in their third guise of the evening, becoming Oberon (O’Connor), the king of the fairies, his wife Titania (Ni Mhurchu), on who he has sworn revenge over a recent conflict of opinion, and his servant Puck (Kingston). Spiteful Oberon sends Puck to retrieve a magical flower which will make Titania love him unconditionally. In his travels, the fairy servant comes across the quartet of Athenians and their romantic woes, and indulges a game of Cupid of his own.
Loose Canon’s plan is to hide very little in this production. Actors’ graceless entries from the wings, less than subtle transformations from one character to another, and a video documentary on the appearances of fairies, all fashion an invitation to contemplate the expectations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Establishing this awareness allows them to accomplish new territory with its tradition. Especially of note is the scene where Oberon and Titania are in conflict, which is staged here as a supernatural battlefield, with lights and sound focused intensely with the conjuring gestures of the actors to effectively blast their opponents across the room. Ella Clarke’s choreography is rather brilliant in moments such as this. Great quirks are established such as the arrivals and departures of the fairies, performed as if they are gallantly capable of flight. Quince and company’s performance of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ at the end is also a hilarious highlight.
As fun as this is, there is a sense of confusion at times about what the true intentions are here. The male performers are prone to delivering lines with withdrawn emotion, playing to the awareness of the iambic pentameter to comedic effect rather than to the meaning of their lines. On the other hand, the female performers speak with pure conviction, inhabiting the characters as Shakespeare intended. Thus, in scenes where male and female perform together we can be at a loss as to what to invest in. There doesn’t seem to be any real consequence to these interactions in the early stages of the play. The cast are in fine form by the time they come to Act III Scene I where Lysander and Demetrius, spellbound, are pledging their love to Helena much to the shock of Hermia. Here the comedic tendencies of the men complement quite well their selfish infatuations with Helena, as the women carry the emotional weight of the scene. Louise Lewis is very much so the centre of events here, showing her heavy heart as the hurt Helena in a rather beautiful performance.
Overall, Loose Canon’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream? is an enjoyable piece of theatre. What new territory it claims is mainly in the name of humour, and when it’s funny it works. As cunning as the postmodern undercurrent is, I do wonder if the ‘awareness’ of the space could be pushed even further to make a statement more profound than humorous. However, it does succeed to enlighten the ideas of Shakespeare that are linked to the modern day mechanics of innovative theatre makers. Postmodern notions of ‘meta-performance’ and addresses to the audience are all found in traditional stagings of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet, posing the question that perhaps the bard had more on the brain than just iambic pentameter. On this particular venture, the goal of Loose Canon and Shakespeare are one in the same. As Quince put it:
“Our true intent is all for your delight”.
What did everybody else think?