One of the ways I like to judge the success of a performance is when the running time becomes insignificant. I must admit, I was not in the mood on a Friday evening, after a week of festival, to watch a Shakespeare play which runs more than two hours. However, it was only when the lights went on for intermission that I realised I have spent already an hour in the theatre and it has not felt like it, it felt much shorter. It is then that I realised that this is two hours well spent on a Friday night.
Fred Abrahamse’s Midsummer Night’s Dream is a very enjoyable and sometimes hilarious version of this classic. I never felt I am watching a highbrow version of a Shakespeare. This production was always accessible and never pretentious without sacrificing the aesthetic quality of a Shakespeare play. Abrahams made the directorial choice to set his production on the Athens Luxury Game Lodge, in the bushveld – the biggest adjustment was the transformation of Bottom into a Zebra and not an ass. The set also reflected its South African context with the six Thorn trees as the wings and the game lodge uniforms of the ‘rude mechanicals’. However, the bushveld setting was transformed into the magical fairyland with magnificent costumes (designed by Marcel Meyer), soundscape (by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder) and lighting effects (by Faheem Bardien and Ian Powell).
The two actors who contributed the most to the success of this production are the extremely talented David Dennis as Bottom and James Macgregor as Lysander. David Dennis has the talent to add comedy to the most humdrum line and it is not only in his delivering of lines but the way he incorporates his physicality to have the audience rolling in the aisles. James Macgregor has the unique ability to be move swiftly and easily from being incredibly vulnerable to disgustingly cruel to lovingly clumsy.
Abrahams used a relative young cast and their inexperience was sometimes noticeable in the phrasing of their lines – especially when they had to deliver lengthy monologues, they will occasionally lose focus, start to emphasise the wrong words and ‘singing’ lines. Another example of their inexperience was during the fight scenes when their heightened emotions were expressed through shouting. With reference to the set, I thought the trees created a beautiful atmosphere and backdrop, however, the raised platform, upstage in the centre looked a little like an oversized wedding cake (or a reference to the “Lion King”?), and overpowered some scenes.
Another aspect of this performance which was not completely resolved and successful was the fairies, who were created by laser lights. It was not so much the laser lights which bothered me but their voices, which were quite playful, but gave it a ridiculous chipmunk feel. In the performance which I attended the sound was very bad – sound queues started in the wrong places and the volume levels were incorrect.
With the exception of these problems, Midsummer Night’s Dream was still a very enjoyable experience and two hours well-spent.