Photo C/O Grace Michael 

The setting is simple: only a staircase, two platforms and a bed made of crystals. The show is an adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream written by Trisha Gregorio, directed by Ian McIntosh and performed by the McMaster Thespian Company. I have both seen and performed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream multiple times, and this adaptation was one of the best I’ve seen. Several of the roles in the show are cast as another gender, creating more roles for women, and also a number of queer relationships. In doing so, the play is updated to reflect modern life and love, while still paying homage to the source text.

Several of the roles in the show are cast as another gender, creating more roles for women, and also a number of queer relationships. In doing so, the play is updated to reflect modern life and love, while still paying homage to the source text.

Gregorio’s adaptation sparkles, breathing life into this 400-year-old show. Unlike the original, the show begins with a young girl named Robin falling asleep and waking up in the world of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as the fairy Robin Goodfellow, also known as Puck. Gregorio replaces the beginning of the original play with an opening scene in the ‘real world’ where Robin’s sister is preparing for her wedding day, immediately setting the scene and giving us a sense of the tone for the play. This is a clever choice, as the original opening of Midsummer tends to drag on. The middle of the play is largely untouched, before the final scene where Robin wakes up just in time for her sister’s wedding. This final scene is especially effective, as it essentially modernizes the final scene of Midsummer, putting the words into a modern context. This does an excellent job of combining the modern parts of the play with the classical.

Many of the male roles have been swapped out in this production, including Theseus, Lysander, and all of the Mechanicals — the comedy relief. This is not only a good way to update the production, it is also an interesting callback to the original play, as in the Renaissance every role would’ve been played by men, with young boys playing the women. This adaptation flips that on its head, claiming most of the roles for women.

The whole cast shines, but in particular Jesse Adams as Bottom/Pyramus and Isis Lunsky as Flute/Peaseblossom/Thisbe stole the show. My voice was hoarse from laughing so hard. Their final scene as Pyramus and Thisbe is a true tour de force, with the two alternating between rolling on the floor, dramatically addressing the audience and being forcibly dragged off the stage, reminiscent of old cartoons when a comedian would get pulled off stage by a hook. I found myself impatiently waiting for their scenes to come, fascinated to see what they would do next.

The show balanced its humour with raw emotion. Kat Sliwowicz as Helena and Jessica Quino as Hermia took my breath away as their friendship fell apart, transitioning from heartfelt expressions of affection to trying to physically tear each other apart. I was unsure how effective this would be, given that Hermia and Helena’s initial scene talking about their friendship was cut from the adaptation, but Sliwowicz and Quino’s emotional deliveries more than made up for that absence.

The biggest flaw I saw with the subplot of the four lovers —  Hermia and Lysander, Helena and Demetrius — was that Sliwowicz and Quino had more chemistry with one another than they had with their love interests. It was almost a disappointment that they didn’t end up together. The final reunion of Hermia with Lysander and Helena with Demetrius falls a little flat after the fights between the lovers, making it difficult to root for the couples at the end.

The technical aspects of the show were simple, but effective. The costumes transition easily from one world to another, with bridesmaid gowns becoming Athenian dresses. The setting is also fairly sparse, with only a few set pieces. However, this very cleverly leaves room for the antics of the cast, including Lunsky’s backwards somersault and Quino launching herself across the stage. Each set piece feels intentional and is used effectively.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the biggest deviations from the original play was in changing the genders of several characters. Nearly every character became queer. Rumours have long circulated about Shakespeare’s sexuality, but the fact remains that he wrote 126 sonnets about an attractive young man and a 25 additional sonnets about a woman, both with similarly romantic themes, indicating that he may have been bisexual. In many ways, Gregorio’s adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream opens up this debate, inviting audience members to see themselves and their identities represented in the play in ways they couldn’t before.

In many ways, Gregorio’s adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream opens up this debate, inviting audience members to see themselves and their identities represented in the play in ways they couldn’t before.

Adaptations of Shakespeare can vary wildly, from stuffy four hour, word-perfect runs, to SparkNotes-style abbreviations that lose the meaning. There is a fine line between monotone delivery and over-exaggerating every line, which this production navigates perfectly. The original iambic pentameter is as easy to understand as modern English, making this show a delight for both Shakespeare enthusiasts and people who suffered through high-school English class. 

Overall, McMaster Thespian Company’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a delightful romp through the land of the fairies well worth the price of admission. Settle in, sit back and get ready for an evening full of tears, laughter and magic. 

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs from Jan. 24 to Feb. 1 at the Robinson Memorial Theatre in Chester New Hall. You can visit their event page on Facebook for more information and show times. Tickets are $14 for students and $17 for general admission.

 

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