A Sudsy Summer Eve: Review of SUDS’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream
For their major production of the year SUDS has decided to stage the perennial Shakespearian favourite, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Everyone knows the story of the misguided lovers, lost in the woods and beset by fairies, the hapless players and the fun-loving sprite, Puck.
However SUDS and director, Bennett Sheldon, have taken a radical approach in recasting Lysander and Helena in opposite gender roles. It made for an interesting conceit. When Hermia and Lysander first enter (as two women) with Demetrius, it looks as though an interesting commentary is being made on a society that doesn’t want to acknowledge a homosexual union, and one which is instead content to enforce gender norms. This is all shot to hell, though, when Helena comes in as a man in love with Demetrius. The powerful social commentary is, not necessarily lost, but greatly reduced with this casting choice as it makes same sex relationships seem more normative in this world (then again maybe that’s what they were going for). However, to their credit, SUDS managed to extract some of the most genuine moments in the play with this choice, with Demetrius shown to be struggling to accept his homosexual identity.
Taken as a whole the production had some very funny and moving moments, but the piece didn’t quite gel. It was evident that some scenes had received greater directorial love than others. The result was to make it a little half-baked and uneven. A costume designer was also sorely missing from the production, which could have used a stronger contrast between the fairy and human world. Puck should never be seen in plain black. Our hearts also went out for the four poor actors who had to stand on stage for two hours with nothing to do. They appeared to be used as set dressing, covering some of the ‘costume’ changes which took place on stage, but surely some other solution could have been found.
The changes made to the sexuality (and gender) of the lovers worked in oscillation. Lysander, now a gay woman (played by Jane Hughes), was the most successful transition. Hughes brought an effortless (often genderless) portrayal of Lysander to the stage, though sometimes her performance relied on a series of practiced gestures and expressions. Helena, now Helios, a homosexual man (played by Tom Mendes), was less successful in terms of the gender transition. This was not the fault of Mendes, but rather the role is more grounded in the female form. Nevertheless, Mendes did the best he could; however, in choosing to go camp in the first scene, Mendes needed to commit to this all the way, or instead play the piece without it. As Hermia, Jessica Orchard was given a straight rendering, though her performance was well pitched and very pleasing generally. It was Michael Cameron however, that stood out amongst the lovers, playing Demetrius, now a homosexual man. Demetrius is here fighting against his nature and what is being asked of him (a marriage to Hermia); Cameron grabbed this by the horns which made for a very touching (and revealing) scene where he casts off Helios, unwillingly, in search of what society wants him to be.
Another strong presence on stage was Dominic Scarf, doubling as Theseus and Oberon. Scarf has wonderful stage presence, and a good grasp of the language. He was funny and engaging throughout. Tess Green played opposite Scarf as Hippolyta and Titania – Green had more to give in the role of Titania, particularly where her physical presence was almost perfect for the role. As Puck, Eloise Westwood delivered the dialogue well enough, though her rendition lacked some colour and playfulness. Her entirely black costume may have worked against her, though. Anna Della Marta played Peaseblossom, the head fairy, and appearing to double as most of the other fairies in the text, was delightful and humorous in all incarnations. Of the Mechanicals, Jim Southwell put in a delicious rendition of Bottom, the over-zealous actor, and was particularly funny during his time as an ass. Of note too was April Saleeba as Snug the Joiner, portraying this Mechanical as the sweetest and most timid of Lions.
For the most part, this production is worth a look in. When it’s funny, its laugh out loud; and the management of the queer reading is interesting enough to hold an audience’s attention. More work and thought was needed to pull the piece together, but from a young troupe of actors and artists it’s a commendable effort.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is playing at the Seymour Centre until the 1st of August. For more information see: http://www.midsummer2015.com/