A smooth and seamless production

Jes Camilleri reviews the MADC’s 65th Shakespeare offering, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Julia Calvert and Chris Galea in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Julia Calvert and Chris Galea in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

To celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, MADC decided to stage one of The Bard’s most popular comedies. A Midsummer Night’s Dream did not initially go down very well with some of Shakespeare’s contemporaries. Samuel Pepys thought it the most ridiculous play he had ever seen, while John Dryden complained that plays should not be depicting fairies, as they did not really exist. Today, the play ranks as one of the most widely-staged and best-loved Shakespearean comedies.

In her Director’s Note, Nanette Brimmer explains how she came to the decision to stage Dream in traditional format, with period costumes and without trying to transpose it for a contemporary audience. Her point being, that if we feel that Shakespeare’s writing is truly timeless, why do we feel compelled to bring it up to date to drive home the point? Fair point and all I can say is that her gamble paid off handsomely.

Thanks to some judicious cuts, the fast-paced production flowed smoothly and seamlessly through the four interconnecting plots. The verse speaking was overall very confident and clear and, judging by the audience’s reactions, even the more subtle jokes were delivered to great effect. The acting of the main characters was, similarly, very good. From the Athenians I was particularly impressed with Maria Buckle playing Hermia and Steffi Thake playing Helen. Buckle gave her character the right dose of romance without making her saccharine sweet, while Thake deftly used all her skills to create a truly memorable Helen. The two young lovers were well-matched by their male counterparts with Joseph Zammit (Lysander) and Davide Tucci (Demetrius) who both gave solid performances.

Fresh and true to the MADC Shakespeare legacy, stretching back to 1938

The Mechanicals provided some of the best comic moments of the night with an excellent Michael Mangion playing Peter Quince and a hilarious Joe Depasquale as Bottom. Together with the rest of the Mechanicals, they were brilliant in the way they handled the farcical moments during their ill-fated rendition of the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe (widely thought to be Shakespeare’s send up of his own Romeo and Juliet).

Steffi Thake, Davide Tucci, Joseph Zammit and Maria Buckle.Steffi Thake, Davide Tucci, Joseph Zammit and Maria Buckle.

Of the Fairies, Christian Galea was fantastic as Puck. Galea’s physicality and his vocal ability allowed him to create a character that was both other-worldly, and yet charming as hell. Although the darker elements of the play were largely glossed over in this production, Galea’s performance will long be remembered both for its depth and technical brilliance. Similarly brilliant was the live singing of Titania’s fairy servants during the musical interludes, so much so that many were convinced they were hearing a recorded playback.

Of all of Shakespeare’s works, Midsummer Night’s Dream is probably the one that feels that it was written specifically to be staged at San Anton Gardens. As director, Brimmer wisely opted to exploit the natural beauty of the gardens with all its sights, sounds and smells by adding only the gentlest of touches to the performance space; Titania’s simple yet striking bower, in the shape of a four-poster bed, a mound and a few pieces of sheer draped from the two large trees that defined the ends of the space.

The rest was down to Chris Gatt’s exceptional lighting design that transformed the surrounding garden into a truly enchanting backdrop that evoked the dreamy quality of the script. While the staging was pared down to the bare elements, the same could not be said of the costume design. Rarely have I seen such detail go into the costume design of a local production and this production certainly raises the bar in this regard. The costumes were not only beautiful, but gave the whole production that feeling of design unity that is so often lacking. My only disappointment was that Bottom’s mask was a full-face one that completely masked the actor’s facial features in a scene where they could have been used to maximum effect.

This was also MADC’s 65th Shakespeare production and it was truly fitting that such a milestone would be remembered by a production that was both fresh and true to this long legacy stretching back to 1938.

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