A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Wednesday 3rd October, 2018
Her Majesty’s Theatre
Choreography: Liam Scarlett
Music: Felix Mendelssohn
Conducted and arranged by Nigel Gaynor
Music performed by Orchestra Victoria
Set and costume design: Tracy Grant Lord
Lighting design: Kendall Smith
Titania: Laura Hidalgo
Oberon: Victor Estévez
Puck: Kohei Iwamoto
Hermia: Yanela Piñera
Lysander: Joel Woellner
Helena: Georgia Swan
Demetrius: Alexander Idaszak
Bottom: Rian Thompson
As soft as a white rabbit’s fur: Edwin Landseer’s Scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Titania and Bottom (1848–51). In a down of fur, the painting, in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, depicts Titania, the Queen of the Fairies, besotted with Bottom, who has recently been reshaped into an ass, from William Shakespeare’s comedy of misplacement. A fairy queen and an ass, two, of opposite realms, entwined and for all to see, in the fairy dell, accompanied by the requisite fairy folk and white rabbits, and on the red wall of the salon room. In an engraving of Titania and Bottom by Henry Fuseli (within A Collection of Prints, from pictures painted for the purpose of illustrating the Dramatic Works of Shakespeare, by the Artists of Great Britain, 1803) they, too, are encircled by a cast of magical inhabitants, and the print of ink assumes the blush of a rose. To look at both is to cross into the fairy realm. And now I shall add to this Liam Scarlett’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, created in 2016, in co-production between Queensland Ballet and Royal New Zealand Ballet.
To a silvered photograph of Vivian Leigh as Titania (on stage at the Old Vic Theatre in 1937), her right arm extended, her gaze following its line, Queensland Ballet’s Laura Hidalgo, in ethereal gown. From Frederick Ashton’s delirious ass en pointe within The Dream to Judi Dench as a loved-up, painted in green fairy queen in the Peter Hall film of 1968, my Midsummer wunderkammer continues to grow. Seated in Her Majesty’s Theatre on opening night, I am accompanied by all of these versions of Titania and Bottom. The moonlit forest I entered was a familiar one, and yet it was not. I knew I would meet old friends. I anticipated couples to be spun into complicated scenarios. I was expecting to be as bewildered as if I was also beneath a spell. Fairies, and Changlings, and Lovers, oh mischief!
Upon a stage made iridescent by fairy benevolence, Queensland Ballet have brought this magic to Melbourne on tour. First performed by Queensland Ballet in 2016, with set and costume design by Tracy Grant Lord, the palette may be brighter than a glow-stick, but it wears its heart upon its wing. In Scarlett’s choreography, the cast of characters, from Cobwebb and Moth to Lovers contrary, in the few moments they did pause, they did so in a circular formation, echoing Landseer and Fuseli’s compositions. And Oberon, performed by Victor Estévez, sported exaggerated winged eye makeup not so dissimilar to the photographic still of Leigh. See and hear the cymbals and triangles upon his arrival! There are, and will continue to be, many versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and for them to work, for me, they must be infused with Shakespeare’s own lines plucked from the page: “Our true intent is. All for your delight”. And delight it was.
As Titania’s paramour, Rian Thompson’s Bottom brought hee-haw humour and light-hoofed-ness. Pre-spell, his carefree eating from a sack akin to a horse feed bag referenced the doubling essential to Shakespeare where everyone is someone else in addition to themselves. Enter: Hermia (Yanela Piñera), Lysander (Joel Woellner), Helena (Georgia Swan), and Demetrius (Alexander Idaszak) — “what hempen homespuns have we swaggering here? So near the cradle of the fairy queen?” — and the chance for mischief was doubled twice over. Swan, as the bespectacled Helena, in love with Demetrius, who in turn is love with Hermia, had the finest enchantment of all: comic timing. The Lovers and the Rustics, dressed in picture book explorers’ attire, right down to their neck kerchiefs and the swooshing of their butterfly nets, represented the mortal realm of nostalgia, with Titania and “king of shadows” Oberon in the courtly, elegant fairy realm. And leaping between the two, “that shrewd and knavish sprite”, Puck, a light-fingered prankster “that frights the maidens of the villag’ry”, a shapeshifter who can lead explorers astray, irrespective of their maps, googles, and magnifying lenses, and a servant to the king who can “put a girdle round about the earth / in forty minutes”. With the emphasis placed upon merry misunderstandings and transformations, down the firemans’ pole slid Kohei Iwamoto as Puck.
With an emphasis upon conveying the story through acting, and the lovers and four lead fairies, in particular, with stars in their eyes and shimmer on their wings, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for me, rolled best like a line of words and a melody of notes when they danced. It was through dance that Titania appeared a radiant queen so earnest in her love for an ass, and Mia Heathcote as the fairy named Mustard Seed was the incarnation of a flirtatious fairy.
Enchanted time was furiously sped up as the entire cast of players ran hither and thither through the moonlit forest. With Felix Mendelssohn to provide further momentum, conducted and arranged by Nigel Gaynor, and performed by Orchestra Victoria. Enchanted time was suspended, as befits a dreamscape, as Hidalgo and Estévez’s reconciled in a gently unfolding pas de deux. Neither one pace nor the other fixed for long, just like a lightness of fairies. The four lead fairies, Neneka Yoshida as Moth, Tamara Hanton as Peaseblossom, and Lina Kim as Cobwebb, alongside Heathcote’s Mustard Seed, danced “ringlets to the whistling wind”. And just as Mendelssohn gave voice to the fairies through the scurrying of strings, they hovered and flitted, flittered and hovered. Mendelssohn, in identifying with them, and indeed, all the characters, gave a light, magical briskness to their spiral of flight.
All the inspiration that I needed was in the text that Shakespeare gave us and the beautiful music that Mendelssohn composed as incidental music, inspired by the play. The words have an amazing rhythm to them, and a flow that gains momentum — especially when read out loud and performed. I think the one thing that I had to keep reminding myself when creating the work was that this is not a book, it’s a play. It was always written to be performed, to be shared with an audience and that was a huge reassurance.
— Liam Scarlett
“While these visions did appear” on stage, thanks to Scarlett’s reading of the Bard’s play within a play, entwined with Mendelssohn’s Fairy March and enchanting Nocturne replete with a fantastical horn solo, “but a dream”.
(All quotations, with the exception of Liam Scarlett, plucked from William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.)
Image credit: Edwin Landseer, Scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Titania and Bottom, oil on canvas, 1848–51