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Bard on the Beach, A Midsummer Night's Dream, cast photo

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies about love, propriety, and supernatural intervention. The Duke of Athens will wed the Amazon Queen in four days. Within that span, the fate of four young lovers at the Athenian court will be decided when they pass through a forest where the Faerie King and Queen are having a squabble. Drop in a tutu-sporting mischievous fairy trickster, who is all too eager to please his master, and the stage is ripe for side-splitting hilarity to ensue.

Bard on the Beach could not have chosen a more fitting play or evening to open its 25th anniversary season. A founding Bard Company member, Scott Bellis, commented that “Unpredictability is part of Bard on the Beach’s magic.” Indeed for this night, heaps and bounds of unpredictability was dispensed in their favour. 

The capricious Vancouver skies, threatening rain all week, cleared up and serenaded the Bard stage with lustrous twilight hues and a crowning golden sunset. 

Bard on the Beach, A Midsummer Night's Dream, cast photo

The natural light was not wasted on Kevin McAllister’s dreamy, curvilinear stage, cleverly rigged with hidden contraptions. Modern and sleek, a palette of black and white, it both absorbed and radiated Gerald King’s perceptive and fanciful lighting choices, serving to create an ethereal atmosphere of fantasy and illusion. 

The collision of dream and reality are sustained with Mara Gottler’s daring and resplendent costume designs. If the attire invokes a feeling of déjà vu, you would be on the mark. Director Dean Paul Gibson had staged a similar phantasm during his 2006 production of Midsummer Night’s Dream

Although hugely successful, the rendition received mixed reviews because the clash of concepts may have been too edgy for some audiences. However, this refreshed and revived remount is unquestionably au courant for 2014. Gottler’s style fusion of defiant steampunk, ornate Victorian, and flamboyant circus allows each character to accentuate their intrinsic charisma. 

Bard on the Beach, A Midsummer Night's Dream, cast photo

The fairies are clad in bright motifs interleaved with black, giving them a vivid and eye-catching presence. The Athenian mortals are costumed in more subdued hues, alluding to their proper placement within Nature’s hierarchy. I was especially impressed with the silver palette of costumes during the wedding finale, an astute recognition of Bard’s silver anniversary. 

Gibson’s imaginative vision is brought to life by the incredible talent and chemistry of the performing cast. Original members from the 2006 production are united with newcomers, creating a show that is both fresh and nostalgic at the same time. 

Ian Butcher scores another commanding performance as Oberon, while Naomi Wright is as sparkling as her gowns in her role as Titania. John Voth (Duke of Athens, Cobweb), Todd Thomson (Egeus, Mustardseed fairy), Luisa Jojic (Philostrate, Peaseblossom), Adele Noronha (Hippolyta, Mustardseed fairy) and Allan Zinyk (Snug, Moth) show off their versatility as they all embrace dual roles: uptight mortals during the day; promiscuous fairies by night. The fairies also handled the changeling puppet with such remarkable dexterity that at first glance I thought it was a real child.

Allan Morgan, Scott Bellis
[Allan Morgan, Scott Bellis] 

Relatively fresh faces to Bard, Chirag Naik (Lysander), Daniel Doheny (Demetrius), Claire Hesselgrave (Hermia), and Sereana Malani (Helena) flawlessly executed their roles as self-confident, conflicted, naïve lovers. Plenty of comedic relief was delivered by the uproarious slap-stick of Bernard Cuffling (Quince), Haig Sutherland (Flute), Andrew McNee (Snout) and an effeminate Allan Morgan (Starveling). 

The superb performances were complimented by the zestful music selections of Alessandro Juliani and Meg Roe. Both serve up a delectable mash-up of contemporary tunes and classical pieces that tickle the earbuds as the eyes devour the onstage action. 

As is Shakespeare’s style in comedies, the clown characters are often the ones who progress the central storyline. Such is the case for the two outstanding performances executed by Scott Bellis as Bottom and Kyle Rideout as Puck. Bellis, a founding Bard Company member, is into his 20th season with Bard. His exceptional portrayal of the pompous buffoon, Bottom, has the audience in stitches with his self-induced pathetic plight. 

Kyle Rideout
[Kyle Rideout]

Rideout returns to Bard after a lengthy absence to pursue other challenges, and what a triumphant return it is! His gender-bending character Puck clearly wears the tutu and the tutu does not wear him! As naughty as the flounces on his skirt, Rideout’s performance is carefree and credible, provocative and arresting. 

This presentation of Midsummer Night’s Dream plays tribute to Bard’s 25th anniversary by staging the Pyramus and Thisbe play-within-a-play, with a red and white striped tent – the trademark icon for Bard on the Beach. The outrageous costumes and inexhaustible shenanigans make this one of the most entertaining nested performances I have ever seen at Bard. 

Bard on the Beach, A Midsummer Night's Dream, cast photo

Artistic director Christopher Gaze is well-poised to steer Bard on the Beach into another quarter century. Whatever the inspiration for Gibson’s unpredictable concoction of styles, melodies, and colours married with sensational showmanship, the opening performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream unequivocally earned its standing ovation from the enraptured audience. 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs Tuesdays through Sundays through September 20 on the BMO Mainstage in Vanier Park.

Photos by David Blue.

About Our Contributor Cora Li

Cora Li

Cora dabbles in arts, technology, food, and travel. She loves that Vancouver offers a vast playground for exploring all of her passions. Cora’s most memorable job to date was working with VANOC during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Her next big pursuit will be in the newly-introduced field of forensic linguistics.

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