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vancouverplays review


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A MIdsummer Night's Dream. Bard on the Beach. Photo: David Blue.

by William Shakespeare
Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival
Vanier Park
June 11-Sept. 20
$27-$47 or 604-739-0559

To mark the start of Bard on the Beach’s 25th anniversary season, artistic director Christopher Gaze has brought back one of the company’s greatest hits, a revised remount of Dean Paul Gibson’s 2006 A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of the most memorable productions in Bard’s history.

Shakespeare’s funniest romantic comedy, Dream gives short shrift to romance. Theseus and Hippolyta’s marriage frames the action but they appear only briefly at the beginning and end. The young lovers, Hermia and Lysander, Helena and Demetrius, chase each other around the forest in various states of love-struck anger and confusion. Oberon and Titania mostly fight–when she’s not drugged and making goo goo eyes at a fool who’s been turned into an ass. And Puck, the trickster, manipulates them all with a cynical sense of mischief and fun.

Gibson downgrades the romance and upgrades the comedy even further. The fairies, often saccharine-sweet Hallmark greeting card figures, are here a mixed-gender carnival of clumsy dancers who double as a doo-wop chorus. And when things threaten to get excessively lyrical, Gibson will have none of it. As Theseus (John Voth) recites one of those Famous Shakespearean Speeches, “The lunatic, the lover and the poet,” Hippolyta (Adele Noronha) upstages him and the poetry by waving to the audience like the queen she is.

This production is marked by high energy, lots of laughs, funky music and spectacular costumes. It feels less unconventional than it did eight years ago but it’s no less a crowd-pleaser.

A few key players return to this Dream team from the original production, older and generally funnier. Scott Bellis’ Bottom, with buck teeth and side-whiskers, a plummy accent and an eagerness to play all the parts, anchors the scenes where the workers prepare for and perform their ridiculous Pyramus & Thisbe for the Athenian court. Bellis is less wacky than he might be when Puck turns Bottom into a braying donkey but he fills Bottom’s thespian turn as Thisbe with rich comic detail.

Also returning are Bernard Cuffling as Quince, the play-within-the-play’s narrator, and Allan Zinyk, one of Bard’s regular clowns, as stuttery, fluttery Snug, the very funny lion in their play. Haig Sutherland’s Flute as an unfeminine Thisbe, Allan Morgan’s fey Starveling as ludicrous Moonshine, and Andrew McNee’s ferocious Scottish Snout as the Wall that separates the lovers round out the nutty low-comic crew.

In one of the nicest touches Gibson has added to this remount, both Snout and Bottom challenge the aristocratic young lovers in their audience who make sarcastic remarks about the commoners’ acting. This is supposed to be a sweet reconciliation scene, so the obnoxious class-ridden commentary of Theseus, Demetrius (Daniel Doheny) and Lysander (Chirag Naik) has always bothered me. I’ve never seen a production until now where the rich kids get told off, or at least stared down. Bravo.

Kyle Rideout returns as a wilier, harder-edged Puck. He’s more forward with his master, Oberon, and choreographs the comic mayhem with an almost sociopathic energy and authority that you can hear in his voice. Watch for the moment when Puck manipulates unconscious Lysander like a puppeteer. And check out his Cyndi Lauper meets Charles Manson look.

Ian Butcher is also back as Oberon. With his shaved head and muscular presence Butcher has quietly become a central cog in the increasingly smooth Bard machine over the years. Here he goes head to head with an equally tough Titania (Naomi Wright).

In fact all the women in this show are at least a match, if not more, for their men. Claire Hesselgrove’s Hermia is a hot little tamale, and the sparks fly when she tangles with righteous rival Helena (Sereana Malani). The young men do a good job to hold their own with these two. And it’s great to see young actors of colour gracing the big stage.

Bard’s genius costume designer Mara Gottler seems to be working with a bigger budget here, and her palette has expanded accordingly. These costumes are lush and gorgeous, the women’s gowns especially, Elizabethan and Edwardian with touches of Cabaret, Chicago, Rocky Horror, glitter and punk. They are a sight to behold.

The entire design team is at the top of their game. Gerald King’s lighting provides just enough pastels to remind us of the romantic side of the comedy and Kevin McAllister has designed a set of concentric swirls that focuses on Bard’s zillion dollar backdrop of False Creek, city and mountains like a telescopic iris.

Finally, the sound design by Alessandro Juliani and Meg Roe is simply brilliant, from the crystalline clarity of the actors’ mics to the sound effects that punctuate key moments in the play (like the James Brown riff when Lysander awakens to Helena with love juice in his eyes) to the snatches of pop songs by Etta James, Frankie Lymon, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and the Eurythmics.

Sweet Dreams are made of this.

Jerry Wasserman


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