SIGHTLINES: Beach House Theatre brings dream to life
It was a midsummer night’s dream come true.
Beach House Theatre Company’s splendid inaugural production, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, did just about everything right.
From the well laid-out and supervised site, the friendly volunteers, excellently spaced seating and sightlines under a spacious tent awning, and a creative-yet-functional set that made the most of a backdrop of rippling waters and Crescent Beach sunsets, to – most importantly of all – an entertaining and well-acted production on stage, this was a theatrical experience that did not disappoint.
The heroic efforts of production designer Nicole Chartrand and technical director Geoff McEvoy’s succeeded admirably in creating a convincing theatre space on Blackie Spit. Indeed, both the site – and the show itself – compared favourably with more than a few Bard on the Beach productions I have seen.
One might quibble over one or two casting and costume choices, or debate the show’s rather down-to-earth depiction of the ‘faerie realm’ – but such criticisms would be largely a matter of personal taste. The overriding fact remains that everyone involved with this crowd-pleasing production was working at a high level and to the best of their abilities.
Beach House artistic director Candace Radcliffe and associate artistic director Rick Harmon’s detailed interpretation of the play couldn’t have been bettered in depicting motive and characterization, and the actors did a commendable job of projecting voices in the tent setting so that everyone could hear and understand each turn of the plot.
Shakespeare’s central conceit in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is of a landscape of ‘dreams’ and a landscape of the ‘real world’ that exist side by side. Both are reflections and distortions of the other, he suggests – and the line separating them can often be a blurry one.
This notion was reinforced by the directors’ decision to cast James Walker as both Theseus, Duke of Athens, and Oberon, King of the Fairy Realm. It posed an intriguing possibility: are they really separate characters, or two sides of the same personality?
Walker, who has become one of local theatre’s most assured performers, was skillful in bringing out this duality, while allowing his sense of humour to inform both roles.
As Theseus, he successfully sketched a powerful man who tempers his authority with smoothness, reason and gentle humour, while, as Oberon, he projected a being who, while possessing ultimate power, sees fit to use it only for trivial pranks and petty attempts to score points against his Queen, Titania.
As the latter, Dana Schindel offered a commanding and appropriately regal presence – even when spellbound – while Sheena Johnson, as Theseus’ betrothed, the Amazon Hippolyta, successfully suggested strength as well as a playful, loving quality.
Marina Benitez-Lazzarotto, as Puck – Oberon’s haphazard mediator between the ‘dream’ and ‘real’ worlds – stole scenes left, right and centre with a dazzling combination of uninhibited zaniness and well-achieved comedic mime. Her over-the-top schtick – which at times suggested an unholy fusing of Peter Pan and Tinkerbell – seemed tailored for the many laughs she won, but at the core of her performance was a disciplined, well thought-out characterization.
Russel Chartrand, too, stole many scenes as Nick Bottom, principal blowhard of a group of well-meaning tradespeople determined to present a play to entertain their Duke. He put his well-developed comedic sense to exceptional use exploring all the possibilities of the oafish, egotistical twit, winning laughs with Bottom’s determination to play every role in the play, and in the weaver’s quite literal transformation into an ass while finding he is also the object of Titania’s love.
But he also had some hilarious competition from the other would-be Thespians: Adam Olgui, as a perpetually-confused and frazzled Peter Quince; Paul Richardson as a beardless Flute, who resists but ultimately embraces an ingenue role; Nicki Carbonneau as a dense and gap-toothed Robin Starveling; Reginald Pillay, touching and inventive as hypersensitive Snout and Rory Tucker, spot-on as a slow-witted Snug.
The quartet of Athenian lovers, divided by fate, spells and crossed purposes, were also well-served. Anne Van Leeuwen offered an appealing, completely-nuanced performance as the bemused Helena, Rylan Schinkel was less varied, but strong nonetheless, as a defiant Hermia, while Nick Hugh and Shane Robinson, as Lysander and Demetrius, were suitably earnest and ardent in pursuit of their loves, and agreeably humorous in their inept combat.
Roger Hussen gave a fine, focused performance as Hermia’s peevish dad, Egeus. Sarah English was amusingly dismissive of the amateur ‘entertainment’ as Theseus’ master of revels Philostrate, while Jacob Hildebrand did well standing in for what could have been a throng of servants.
One could have wished for more fairies, too, but Paula Cooper, Cassidy Johnson, Mikayla Hart and Marika Stanger made good use of music and movement (including some effective choreography by Carol Seitz) to create atmosphere – and I liked their vocal harmonies as they sang Titania to sleep in her bower.
Linda Weston’s costumes made evocative use of traditional ‘Shakespearian garb’ – albeit with a few more modern elements, such as leotards – while lighting and sound design complemented the play at every turn.