There is so much going on in director Dean Paul Gibson’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream that you half expect the cast of Cirque de Soleil to walk up the stairs through the tent’s opening in the back. But while the production may stop just short of real circus acts, the sensory overload that is the hallmark of our French circus friends is translated beautifully to one of Shakespeare’s funniest plays.
With the wild costumes from designer Mara Gottler, quirky set pieces from Kevin McAllister and the eccentric nature of husband-and-wife team Meg Roe and Alessandro Juliani’s sound design, there is a risk that the actual Shakespeare will be lost beneath a cacophony of distractions. But far from these visual and auditory delights taking away from the story, or worse yet, used as some sort of theatrical sleight-of-hand to mask performances, they all add up to a worthy celebration of the Bard on the Beach 25th anniversary season. And much like the longevity of the Bard’s words themselves, it proves that there is still much life left in this annual Festival of iambic pentameter.
For all its flash though, there still needs to be a pan, and this production sees a mix of veteran Bard players and some emerging talent that also gives hope for the longevity of the Festival.
Leading the charge are two actors, a few spaces apart on the veteran spectrum. Bard on the Beach founding member Scott Bellis dons buck teeth and a wire-frame asses head for a hilarious turn as the pompous blowhard Bottom, while Kyle Rideout dons a tutu to give his androgynous Puck a sexy and rebellious edge. A study in contrasts, the two highlight everything that make’s Gibson’s vision for this Dream so compelling.
Bellis is supported by a group of other Bard veterans (Bernard Cuffling, Allan Zinyk, Haigh Sutherland, Andrew McNee and Allan Morgan) as the other members of the amateur thespians, who breathe freshness into the play-within-a-play of Pyramus and Thisbe.
Rideout gets equal support from his fairy friends, including Ian Butcher as a majestic King and Naomi Wright committing to the ridiculousness of a Queen who has been punk’d by her husband. With the help of the remaining fairies (Luisa Jojic, John Voth, Allan Zinyk, Lili Beaudoin, Todd Thomson, Adele Noronha), director Gibson creates a fantastical world that pulls you in completely.
As one of the four young lovers of the court, it is Sereana Malani who more fully embraces her role of Helena from the start; proud, strong and cognizant of her role as the embodiment of unrequited love, Malani finds a heart within her self-pity. And while it takes the other three (Chirag Naik, Daniel Doheny and Claire Hesselgrave) some time to get to that same place, they simply blossom after being allowed to play inside the magical world of the fairies.
As the cast took its bows I became fully aware that my jaw was sore from smiling for the preceeding two and half hours. But more importantly, as Pharrell’s “Happy” started to play as we left the theatre, in that moment in time I not only clapped in appreciation for what I had just seen, but clapped in knowing what my “happy” was.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. Directed by Dean Paul Gibson. A Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival production. Playing in repetory with The Tempest at Vanier Park through September 20. Visit https://bardonthebeach.org for tickets and information.