Review: Midsummer (theSpace @ Niddry St)
Updated: Jul 28, 2023
Tiltyard’s reworked Midsummer Night’s Dream has forgotten that less is more
Do you ever try reshuffling the furniture in your home, only to realise it was probably better as it was? That maybe the furniture was arranged like that because it was the most logical layout in the first place? Well, that is roughly what Tiltyard Theatre have done with Midsummer. Adapted by Sara Holdren & Rachel Carpman and directed by Holden, the story is essentially a reconstruction of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but the script uses lines and language from every single one of Shakespeare’s plays.
Photo Credit: Beau Gambold
In this reimaging the tale of the Athenian lovers and that of Oberon and Titania is performed by the mechanics, and it is all being controlled by Puck (Josephine Stewart), who has gone feral in the derelict woods. Stewart is very well suited to this role as a malevolent fairy; we only need to see her crawling out of a bin at the beginning of the performance to understand what her character is and what has driven her to this state. The other performance that stands out is Kelly Letourneau who has great comedic timing as Hermia, especially during the fight scenes where she embodies the “little but fierce” character. As always the crowd-favourite is Bottom, played by Aaron Profumo, but sadly the overly-eager Am-Dram-enthusiast is more irritating than endearing. Moreover, Profumo rarely seems to be on the same wavelength as his co-stars. While the others interact with each other and the space in a way that fits the 100-seater black box theatre, his performance is more self-absorbed and too large for such an intimate venue.
Demetrius, played by Brennan Caldwell, is taken in an interesting direction with this production. His obnoxious qualities are turned in on themselves and made erotic and dominating, making for some thrilling but often confusing chemistry with Annelise Lawson as Helena. It is twists and unusual choices like this that Tiltyard Theatre seems most comfortable with; they want to mess with a text, take it in a new direction, and subvert audience expectations. That is to be commended, but it has come at the expense of the language and storytelling that makes these classic works great in the first place. For example, character traits like Helena’s jealousy of Hermia have been lost under an overcomplicated vision of the character, and Titania's (Hannah Jane Ginsberg) speech has been carefully crafted but is delivered so blandly that it could be swapped with nearly any dramatic Shakespearean monologue and not seem out of place.
To make a script consisting of lines from all of Shakespeare’s works is impressive, but it means nothing if the end product overshadows the words themselves. Having recently seen a production that radically repurposed Shakesperean writing to tell a new story, that being The Tempest by Bard in the Botanics, I know that it can be incredibly successful. But what Midsummer teaches us is that there is no use adding complexity to a Shakespearean play if you cannot also do justice to the original text at the same time. Two stars.
Whispers from the Crowd: "It was like watching the complete works of Shakespeare in an hour. They drew on so many quotations!" "It was wonderful and delightful."
Midsummer will run at theSpace @ Niddry St until August 27th