Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble at Roma Street Parklands Amphitheatre

Main Image: Silvan Rus and Rebecca Murphy – Benjamin Prindable Photography

Perhaps the most-produced and certainly (in this theatre-goer’s humble opinion) the most accessible of Shakespeare’s comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the latest from the Brisbane-based QSE under the artistic direction of Rob Pensalfini. Rob has also directed and composed the original music for this production but, according to a declaration in a Q&A post-show session he almost didn’t do either.

When the idea first came up at a company meeting, he said he’d rather ‘gouge his eyes out with a spoon.’ The Romantic 19th century fairy ‘sheen’ of most productions that he’d seen or been involved with just hadn’t clicked.  With this production, Rob took up the theme of ‘discord in the land of shadows.’  I’m pleased to report he’s got both eyes still and that his brushed-up Dream is fresh and great fun.

Matt Gaffney, Laura McKenna, Colin Smith, Brandon Dowery

It’s high-energy with action that never stops till that final ‘Curtain’ – spot on! Some of the ensemble play multiple roles and join in the offstage band that accompanies the action. With choreography and movement by Zoe Tuffin this dream is physical and dance-like helping, as does the music, to manifest the differing tempo-rhythms of the play’s worlds.

The twelve-strong ensemble trip the light fantastic, cavorting, frisking and frolicking their way through the faerie kingdom of Oberon (Zac Kelty) and Titania (Ruby Drewery). Mr Kelty and Ms Drewery double as often happens in productions of this play with Duke Theseus and his Amazon Queen bride-to-be Hippolyta. They are joined by Louise Brehmer as a spring-heeled Puck, Brandon Dowery (in an impressive first showing for QSE)Matt Gaffney, Sam Jeboult, and Laura McKenna as assorted goblins, fairies and mechanicals.  Colin Smith gets to wear the asses’ head as a robust Nick Bottom, and Nick James, Silvan Rus, Rebecca Murphy, and Johancee Theron battle it out – athletically and delightfully – as the quartet of lovers and, of course, end up happily ever. Now, you must know the story, so don’t look for a plot summary. If it’s not familiar to you, go and read it here but, better still, get along to the Roma Street Parklands and see for yourself.

As to the Parklands, it’s a gorgeous part of town and the gardens are always delightful – drink in the scent of the night-blooming datura on the pathway leading to the amphitheatre – heavenly. Then there is the rowdy accompaniments to the action by resident possums; outdoor Shakespeare can be full of surprises. Costuming by Angel Kosch and set by Belinda McCormack are designed to enable quick changes and are suggestive  of the urban/romantic crossover of worlds in the play.

This amphitheatre, as lovely as the setting, is a tough gig. QSE chooses to put audience on the stage with the actors. It makes for an intimate experience that works very well especially with (as this production has) audience interaction. The placement of audience to action saw the transformation of the Theseus/Hippoyta/Oberon/Titania off in the unlit distance; it would have been stronger onstage. Having said that, I loved the appearance over the knolls and stage edge of the fairies and the ‘stolen child’ /Indian boy which begins the action. Yeats’ gorgeous poetry in voice over by Rob Pensalfini was a lovely touch in a production that examines the dark and light worlds of faerie and human. I’d prefer to watch the proceedings from out front, however. I’d be happier chancing the weather – rain at this time of year is a long-shot – and bring a chair or a cushion to avoid the bum-numbing of the concrete amphitheatre steps, the distraction of passers-by and the red neon Chancellor Hotel sign behind the onstage action.

Louise Brehmer
Louise Brehmer

This is a confident, good-natured production of a well-known, much-loved play that isn’t afraid to speak the verse gutsily and trippingly on the tongue – although some of the voices were showing signs of raggedness on the night I saw it. Moreover, this Dream adds to the laurels of QSE whose ongoing mission is ‘engage South-East Queensland communities with Shakespeare.’ They’ve been working together training and performing in various iterations of ensemble for over 10 years. That alone is pretty amazing! Long may they thrive.

QSE’s A Midsummer NIght’s Dream plays at the Roma Street Parklands Amphitheatre until 7th September.






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