Midsummer Dreams is a retelling of one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays. For those unfamiliar with it, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comedy about the marriage of Theseus, Duke of Athens to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Except there’s like three other plots woven through as well; two about lovers, and one about a troupe of actors controlled by fairies. Yeah. Fairies.
Shakespeare’s original work is probably his most confusing, magical, fun, and weird play. It was psychedelia before psychedelia was even a thing. Sure, there’s witches in The Tempest and in Macbeth, ghosts in Hamlet, and even the gods themselves show up in Cymbaline and Pericles, Prince of Tyre. For me, however, A Midsummer Night’s Dream perfectly embodies the best of Shakespeare’s fun, magical side. And, to be perfectly fair, Shakespeare was, in the parlance of those of us who frequent the Tav, “a loose unit”. The stuffed shirt image that is often projected onto The Bard is really a modern misreading of him. He was a carousing, troublemaking party-boy with a reputation for enjoying the finer things in life.
So, going into a Fringe show with very little knowledge of what to expect (again) except for the little I read on the flyer posted at the venue, I was very surprised. Midsummer Dreams is an absolute trip. There’s no real stage. The venue is the stage, to put it somewhat confusingly. Instead of sitting down as an audience and watching a story unfold in front of you, you walk around the transformed grounds of Heathcote Cultural Reserve, interacting with the characters as you go. In one room, Helena will be trying desperately to win back the love of her ex Demetrius, while just around the corner, Peter Quince’s troupe of actors will be rehearsing Pyramus and Thisbe. Walk outside and Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the Fairies, will be having a lover’s quarrel. All these scenes play out in amazingly well-designed sets, each made to complement and embody the feeling of the scenes that play out in them. While the characters aren’t engaged in the story, they’ll walk around and engage with members of the audience. In fact, two other audience members and I were approached by Demetrius and asked for help. He needed to get the wording of his break-up letter exactly right and wanted our opinion. I hope we let Helena down gently.
If this sounds like a lot, it’s because it is. Honestly, the amount of organisation needed for a production as ambitious as this must have been incredibly demanding. Modicum Theatre, the team behind MD, is a community group, not a professional group of actors, making the entire production even more impressive. Sure, some of the performances are a little rushed. Sure, the fact that a lot of scenes play out simultaneously means that you’ll almost certainly miss important scenes. (More than once I heard an audience member turn to one of their friends and ask if they knew what was going on. If you’ve never seen the original play or read the source material, I suggest giving the plot section on Wikipedia a quick perusal before going to MD.)
In the end though, it doesn’t matter all that much. I’ve been to a lot of FRINGE WORLD Festival shows, and this was the first one that made me feel like they’d captured the spirit of what they were trying to do, and the ethos behind the Festival itself. FRINGE WORLD is about creating and showcasing art that is out there, weird, subversive. I think Modicum Theatre have done that.
Go along. It’ll probably be some of the most fun you have this summer.
Four and a half Donkey’s heads out of Five.
Lachlan Serventy is 22 and still finds the fact that there’s a character named “Bottom” in a Shakespearean play funny.
Image courtesy of FRINGE WORLD Festival.
Woodside Petroleum is a principal sponsor of FRINGE WORLD Festival. Pelican has been a long-time supporter of the Festival, and will continue to show its support. However, the Magazine feels it is unethical for Woodside Petroleum to remain a principal sponsor of FRINGE WORLD, given the current climate emergency, and Woodside’s ongoing contribution to climate change.
Other Festivals have demonstrated that ethical sources of funding are possible – you can read more, and sign the petition, here: https://www.change.org/p/fringeworld-side-with-the-climate-and-drop-woodside-petroleum // #fossilfreefringe #fossilfreearts // Arts and Cultural Workers for Climate Action