A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theatre Review, Queen’s Hall, Newtownards
By Conor O’Neill
Terra Nova Productions outing of A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes the main theme of, ‘Peace is nothing without love’, and rightly so you might say? Add to that creative producer and director, Andrea Montgomery’s desire to: “Make changes to the genders of key characters in the plot to closely reflect current political realities or to give women a wider range of roles. The casting of visible minority actors in key roles both adds to the richness and nuance of the on stage relationships and plays a crucial role in allowing Northern Ireland’s visible minority and immigrant populations… to see non indigenous actors on the Northern Ireland stage. A healthy theatre belongs to all.”
Lofty ideals indeed, and without seeing the play, nor have read it, I walk in blind and full of wonder.
To the audience’s left and on a raised stage of Newtownards Queen’s Hall, 18 musicians tune up as the tension of the 200 capacity theatre take their pews. Slightly under used to my mind but when band and choir strike up, the impact is palpable. Centre stage the Moon, changes in hue will dictate action, dance, the slight-of-hand, the frequent battles, comatose drug induced dreams and spells that rage and rake of supposedly Shakespeare’s most beloved tragic comedy.
If like myself you’re unfamiliar with the piece, you’ll most likely spend the first half of the show scratching your head. Shakespeare is synonymous with switching genders, slight of hand and of course intrigue upon intrigue. Here, for the uninitiated director Andrea Montgomery may just have pushed to boat a little too far to sea. As much as I love the idea that she and cast have taken a few artistic liberties with the original. It was hard to follow.
Thankfully, the program does give a brief outline of the changes. Queen Thesea (Rosie McClelland) has agreed to marry Hippolytus and a group of am-dram WI ladies have decided to put on a performance to celebrate. This play within a play often offers the most giggles throughout the two hour and 20 minutes. Jumping from Athens to a weaver from Donegal, with the Bard and a bit of imagination anything is possible.
The star of the show within a show is undoubtedly Bottom (Patrick McBrearty). His death throws will have you gagging for breath as he takes, and takes, and takes his last.
Returning to the main plot, there’s two sets of young lovers; Hermia (Roisin Gallagher) loves Lysander (Jamal Franklin), Hermia’s father wants her to marry a man of better stock, namely Demetrius (Stefan Dunbar). With Helena (Comfort Fabian) on his mind to paraphrase Elvis, he’s ‘stuck in a rut, oh, ha, ha, ha’ as the father, King Oberon (David Monteith) demands he must wed Hermia.
After Bottom and Brick Lady, Puck (Conor Cupples) is my next favourite character; the mischievous one, under the guidance of Oberon is employed to punish the queen. Wild draughts, fairies, drug induced hallucinations, realisation and many more play their part.
As unfamiliar with A Midsummer Night’s Dream as I am, I find it hard to imagine the man being aware of Irish dancers or the beautiful manoeuvres of the South East Asian dancer with her flowing costume and spellbinding swirls and twirls around the stage.
For pure comic joy, the play within the play gets the most chuckles. Bottom has been turned to an ass, both literally and metaphorically, human prop, in my notes simply described as the ‘Brick Lady’ had the house in stitches. The cast knows no limits. Oberon’s son’s few little words are met with ‘ahs’ and adoring ‘ums’ as he brings a lump to many a throat.
Does it all work? Let’s just say the first half and trying to work out who’s who, who fancies who, the fairies, the potions, clandestine trickery and all Shakespeare and Montgomery – with a host of help too long to fit in this humble review – made the trip to Newtownards well worth the while.
*Note to actors, if applying for the role of Bottom, make sure the sword is plastic, for Brick Woman, Pilates won’t cut it. Best get steroids from the black web months in advance.
After the standing ovation, Montgomery gave an impassioned plea for more support for local art. It’s necessary. And do you want to know why? Two hours and 20 minutes in an obscure theatre in Ards says so.