An entertaining ‘Dream’ to be had at the EMCVPA
Keen observer of nature that he was, Shakespeare would certainly have known about imprinting, a biological phenomenon occurring in newly born birds and mammals that causes them to bond with the first large moving thing that they see, even inanimate objects.
For birds like ducks, geese and turkeys that start walking as soon as they hatch, the imprinting is instantaneous and young chicks have been seen attaching themselves to boots, balls and even an electric train. Imprinting causes chicks and ducklings to stick around these objects, just as they normally follow their mothers around.
I suspect that it was Shakespeare’s awareness of imprinting that caused him to create a story around the central action in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (now playing at the Edna Manley College’s School of Drama): a mischievous sprite, Puck, puts a magic spell on several sleeping characters so that they fall in love with the first person they see on waking.
Dream is that sort of play – as light, airy and unbelievable as the fairies that inhabit it – along with a king, a duke, two queens and two couples who, initially, are in love with the ‘wrong’ person. The predicaments that these characters find themselves in give us much amusement, but real belly laughter comes from the actions of a gaggle of bumbling tradesmen who keep popping up throughout the play.
They intend to stage a short skit to entertain the duke and his bride, and the skit is indeed mounted near the end of the play. The absolutely hilarious scene is arguably the most successful one in a generally enjoyable production.
The acting delights. Nowadays, Shakespeare’s language is neither easily understood nor spoken, but most of the actors speak it with understanding and well enough for us in the audience to follow the story and get the many witticisms. The director, Jean-Paul Menou, is one of the school’s lecturers in speech, so no doubt he focused on that aspect – probably the most challenging – of the production.
Menou also directs with energy. The actors – and there are 24 in all – make full use of the stage, and there is usually activity accompanying their words. The main actors are Akaila Simms (Puck), Jason Richards (Theseus, Duke of Athens), Timeria Morgan (Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons), Jonelle McPherson (Hermia, who is in love with Lysander), Tori-Ann King, and Regina Squire (who both play Helena, who is in love with Demetrius), Jonathan McLaughlin (Demetrius, who is in love with Hermia), Lennox Richards (Lysander, also in love with Hermia), Donahue Lattibeaudiere (Oberon, King of the Fairies) and Marci-Lee Smith (Titania, Queen of the Fairies).
Maybe Javian Kiffin (Nick Bottom, a weaver) deserves to be added to that list, for though he is one of the bumbling tradesmen, his head gets transformed into a donkey’s head and he becomes the object of the affection of a spellbound Titania and spends a lot of time on stage. He and Rajeave Mattis (Francis Flute, a bellows-mender) are outstanding in their buffoonery.
SET and COSTUME DESIGNS
The set was designed by another director, Eugene Williams, who has given the play an open look by having several ‘columns’ of cloth on the periphery of the otherwise bare stage. With the play being set in the city of Athens and in the country’s forest, the columns alternately represent the city’s man-made structures and the forest’s trees.
The costumes designed by Stacy Banton are quite attractive. Though the director, probably explaining the minimalist set, states in the printed programme, “As in Shakespeare’s day, we depend primarily on the characters and language itself to colour the scenes”, he might have mentioned the costumes. They, too, add colour.
Also giving visual appeal are Robin Baston’s varied and mood-enhancing lighting design, and Michael Holgate’s energetic choreography. The aural appeal of Michael Sean Harris’ original music came not only from its spiritedness, but also from its feeling of authenticity. Played by only a few instruments, one a drum, it has the simplicity of Elizabethan popular music.
As A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, the scenario needs only the briefest of summaries. There are, in fact, four interlocking stories – that of Theseus and Hipployta, who are preparing for their wedding; the two couples who are trying to match up properly; King Oberon and Queen Titania, who are temporarily estranged when we meet them; and the attempt of the tradesmen to rehearse their skit.
There have been countless articles on the play over the centuries, with the earliest criticism being found in a 1662 entry in the famous diary of Samuel Pepys. He described a production he saw as “the most insipid, ridiculous play I ever saw in my life”.
That production must have been very unlike the current dynamic one at the School of Drama. It continues tonight and tomorrow and closes on Sunday.