The most obvious time to stage an outdoor performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be at some point during the summer months. Despite the season-specific nature of the play’s title, UC Follies decided to launch their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Hart House Circle on September 15, right on the cusp of the fall season.
Initially, this choice of timing and location threatened to detract from the performance. It was uncomfortably cold on the play’s opening night, and while the stage was nestled beneath a canopy of trees that perfectly evoked the depths of a forest, it was also directly in the path of some distractingly noisy students making their way across campus.
Fortunately, traffic in the Circle settled down not too long after the play began, and the actors performed with such spark, wit, and humour that it was possible to forget about the dropping temperature.
The Follies’ production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream opens with the mythical battle between the Amazons and the Athenians, during which King Theseus captures the Amazonian Hippolyta and takes her back to Athens to be his wife. Shakespeare only briefly alludes to this conflict in the original text, but the Follies’ decision to bring Hippolyta’s abduction to the foreground of the action was a striking addition to a play that is clearly preoccupied with the complexities and injustices of gender hierarchy.
But perhaps the most impressive part of the performance was the actors’ treatment of the comedy. Making 16th century Shakespearean humour palatable to a contemporary audience requires a thorough understanding of Shakespeare’s characters — their emotions, their intentions, and the meaning of their words. All of the actors in the Follies’ production seemed to possess this understanding, and they carried out their roles with a naturalness and energy that brought the play to life.
The Mechanicals (especially the character of Nick Bottom, played by Lauren Goodman) were consistently hilarious in their bumbling attempts to create a play for Theseus’ wedding, and Victoria McEwen skillfully captured Puck’s gleeful sense of mischief and his child-like reverence of Oberon, King of the Fairies.
The actors also succeeded in drawing humour out of the less obviously comedic characters in the play. Helena is generally portrayed as weepy and morose, but in the Follies production, she is a source of comedy, stumbling around the stage, drinking from a flask and chasing after her uninterested beloved with a licentious determination. Titania, Queen of the Fairies, is played by a man (Shakir Haq) in drag, who saunters around in an oversized wig, a multi-coloured skirt and, in one scene, a red silk leotard.
The Follies’ production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream marks the first time the company has performed one of Shakespeare’s plays, and the first time they have taken a production outside. In spite of a few numb fingers and toes, there was much fun to be had.