POP UP GLOBE - A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, Pop-Up Globe Theatre, Entertainment Quarter at Moore Park; 5 September 2018. For all dates, times and plays, go to popupglobe.com.au. Photos: above - Puck, below the Tradies, below again - the Athenian Lovers
According to the producer – thanking everyone from the stage on the Sydney opening night – the temporary Elizabethan theatre currently gracing the old show ground is made up of more than 260 tonnes of scaffolding and took six weeks to build. A quaint definition of “pop up”!
Pop up it has, however, and an amazing and thrilling thing it is. Amazing because, although not constructed of green oak timbers, straw and mud filler, and lit by electricity rather than candles, its proportions and design are accurately Shakespearean, thanks to new research from Australian academe. And thrilling because, despite the steel, plastic gallery seats, 21st century theatrical lighting and strings of light globes, it is bubbling with atmosphere and a sense of wonder that could easily be the innocent thrill of the olden days.
Then there are the shows and the cast. Four plays are circulating in repertory – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, A Comedy of Errors and The Merchant of Venice. All four are performed by various members of Buckingham’s Company: “based on the performance tradition of 1614” – it’s a “resident all-male company of actors and musicians, drawn from around the world.”
It’s an interesting thing, in these times of gender equity and the likes of Robyn Nevin and Helen Mirren playing the Bard’s great male roles, to experience not only how it was 400 years ago, but also how it mainly was just a few years ago when we still meekly accepted patriarchal norms.
(By merry coincidence, you can experience the cataclysmic comic moment when it all went pear-shaped for the lady-bloke actors of yore in the marvellous Nell Gwynn, playing until this weekend at the New Theatre. Strongly recommended, btw.)
For A Midsummer Night’s Dream the Pop-Up Globe also brings us something extra piquant: a casting decision to have the Faeries – the denizens of the play’s “other” world – be Māori and speak a new translation of Shakespeare’s text into te reo Māori. The effect is electrifying.
Anyhoo, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is Shakespeare’s most popular and sweetest of comedies, although there are cynics who would roll their eyes at the description. In essence, there are three stories running – or stumbling – concurrently in the play. There are four young lovers being thwarted by cruel laws and a tyrannical father; there is an epic of am-dram theatre in rehearsal by a mob of tradies, hopeful of being chosen to perform at the Duke’s nuptial celebrations; and finally, we in the audience are privy to the otherwise unseen world of the Faeries and the mischief they inflict on the unwitting Pakeha of ancient Athens and its nearby woodlands.
Incongruities such as these as well as tongue-in-cheek updating of jokes – including dance moves, language and targeted jibes – make for a riotous evening of broad comedy and much laughter. The young Athenians are as oblivious to anyone or anything, other than their own concerns, as proper post-colonial Millennials should be. Floating above them on a sea of complacent born-to-rule is the Duke, his reluctant bride and the rest of the Court.
Also oblivious to the fact that they’re entirely unimportant in the scheme of things are the Mechanicals, aka tradies and hopeless actors. While in the other dream realm, flitting around via trapdoors and puffs of dry ice, and into and out of kapa haka and the maladministration of love potions, are the Faeries.
It’s a strong ensemble performance from the entire company. The energy and commitment to the play and playing style is infectious and unflagging. Hard to believe the actors can maintain the pace and gaiety for almost three hours, yet for the audience, time flies. Unless, perhaps, you’ve chosen to be a blood-spattered “groundling” – standing for the duration. Although the palpable joy and connection on the faces of those in the packed, open-air space in front of the stage said otherwise.
As someone who unashamedly adores A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I can happily say I’ve rarely enjoyed the play more. There are those who think having the Faeries speak entirely in te reo might confuse or alienate some, but methinks people aren’t daft, will go along with it as “foreigners” always have to do with English, and will get it anyway because it’s performed very clearly. And actually, it really doesn’t matter if not everyone understands everything all the time – that’s life.
In this instance, the effect is magical. As is the performance by the tradies of their dreadful play, The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe. This should be the play-within-a-play highlight of any production of the Dream, and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s silly, vulgar, hilarious and as painfully perfect as you could hope for. Recommended for all the family.
NB: be prepared for the cold – Sydney winter can give the authentic feel of a pre-climate change English summer. Also, dress for comfort, not style – especially if you choose the Groundling option and are going to stand (great value at about $30).