On Thursday night Freewill Shakespeare Festival debuted A Midsummer Night’s Dream to a background symphony of chattering squirrels, croaking frogs and squawking magpies.
As the warm sun slowly descended on a dusky horizon, the tree-ringed Heritage Amphitheatre in Hawrelak Park was the perfect open-air venue to mirror a nebulous forest that hints at symmetries between the spirit and mortal world.
It was easy to become beguiled, to feel a sense of enchantment in this unearthly realm where fairies ply their cruel mischief on unsuspecting lovesick couples. It was a night of magic, but yes, “what fools these mortals be.”
As the actors stride on stage, the devilish, debonair Theseus (John Kirkpatrick), Duke of Athens and his intended bride, the imperious Hippolyta (Belinda Cornish), Queen of Amazons, bicker about everything. She is clearly not happy about the upcoming marriage.
The monkey business heightens after John Wright’s Egeus brings Hermia, his problem daughter, to Theseus for resolution. They are at cross-purposes.
Hermia (Bobbi Goddard) is in love with Lysander (Sheldon Elter). However, Dad believes Demetrius (Jesse Gervais) would make a stronger match and attempts to invoke the patriarchal law of Athens.
If Hermia disobeys, the alternatives are death or life shuttered in a barren nunnery. Added to the passionate mix is Helen (Kristi Hansen), a woman besotted by Demetrius, even though he wants nothing to do with her.
Tensions are high and the red-blooded lovers with a healthy degree of lust flowing through their veins itch to escape the court’s strict laws. On their flight from Athens, the quartet loses their way in the forest for what turns into a night of love, magical tomfoolery, fornication and marriage.
Once in the forest setting, Kirkpatrick and Cornish uncover their other selves as Oberon and Titania, rulers of the fairy kingdom. This doubling up is nothing new and effectively swaddles both courts in a world of desire and dreams.
Artistic director Marianne Copithorne is blessed with an enthusiastic cast and elicits some strong, balanced performances. Kirkpatrick as the petulant Oberon delivers a sinister delight in teaching his lady a lesson. And Cornish as the beautiful, arrogant Titania is comically and humbly brought to her knees by an ass.
Kevin Corey as Robin Goodfellow, Oberon’s trickster servant, provides non-stop pleasure as a scraggly, bright-eyed insubordinate who appears oblivious to the pain and confusion he causes.
The four lovers are beautifully contrasted and John Ullyatt as Nick Bottom, a weaver Mechanical, amps it up and practically steals the show with his farcical antics.
The magical aspects invite bold visual storytelling and a special nod is directed at Narda McCarroll’s brilliantly coloured costumes contrasting beautifully with Cory Sincennes’ classic set.
The course of true love may not run smoothly. But Midsummer Night’s Dream takes you on a madcap journey of laughter and magic not easily forgotten.
The show runs on every odd-dated evening and all Saturday-Sunday matinees.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Freewill Shakespeare Festival
Runs until July 21
Heritage Amphitheatre in Hawrelak Park