Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Sydney Theatre Company)

stcVenue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Sep 12 – Oct 22, 2016
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Kip Williams
Cast: Paula Arundell, Matthew Backer, Rob Collins, Honey Debelle, Emma Harvie, Jay James-Moody, Brandon McClelland, Josh McConville, Robert Menzies, Susan Prior, Rose Riley, Rahel Romahn, Bruce Spence
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Characters get up to a lot of mischief in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but what can be construed as humorous, can also be seen as menacing. The play features deception, sabotage, humiliation and misogyny, subversively, and surreptitiously, framed within a category of conventional comedy, leaving the depths of its darkness unacknowledged. One of Western theatre’s most well-known pieces, it is often regarded as light and frothy, fun for the whole family, with themes of romance and fantasy taken to their greatest extremes for hours of harmless entertainment.

Centuries on, it can be argued that much of Shakespeare’s comedy is no longer funny. Some insist that everything Shakespeare had penned can stand the test of time, but others will hold a more objective attitude. Kip Williams looks at the text with modern eyes, judging it with today’s values, and in exposing all that is archaic in the piece, creates something imaginative, powerful and irreverently spectacular. Turning A Midsummer Night’s Dream into a twisted nightmare, it is suddenly mesmerising. Williams’ concept might seem basic, but his detailed execution of a macabre and provocative utopia/dystopia is as sensitive as it is scandalous. Consistently fascinating, and frankly eye-opening, this is some of the most astonishing and iconoclastic theatre, full of spirit; adventurous, brave and ostentatious.

Actor Paula Arundell is unforgettable as Titania, queen of the fairies, via Donatella Versace. Regal, austere and decadent, her creation is strikingly sensual, full of danger and drama, compelling and beguiling in every moment. Arundell attacks her role with a fierce solemnity, resolutely playing against the comedy that we have become used to, in order that a fresh theatricality may be delivered; poetic, surreal, and irrevocably powerful. Also deadly serious are all the production’s design aspects. Chris Williams’ music and Nate Edmondson’s sound design hold us firmly in their dictatorial insistence for dramatic tension, and Alice Babidge’s costumes dare us to look away from the grotesque glamour reminiscent of Leigh Bowery and Cindy Sherman’s brutal legacies.

On stage is a morbid world, resplendently manufactured to satisfy our need for an art that is carnal, wild and audacious. It must be noted however, that the show closes with an abruptness that betrays its fundamental and delicious sophistication. The final transition from a scene of brilliant black humour to its concluding gravitas occurs with surprising carelessness, leaving us disoriented and prematurely awoken from what had been a deeply luscious reverie. Nevertheless, what is achieved here is an instance of magic rarely witnessed, and unlikely to be seen very soon again. Wonderful for its uniqueness, and its gutsy approach to the most time-honoured of classics, this is excellent theatre that reminds us how good it is to be alive, at a time when the ephemeral art form can thrive so brilliantly, and we are here to catch it.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au