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The Shakespeare Company’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream: a joyful and entertaining production

By Ansharah Shakil, June 7 2024—

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies for a reason, combining interconnecting plots to weave together one coherent, enchanting and entertaining story. A widely performed favourite for years, the play made its way to Calgary’s The Shakespeare Company in collaboration with Hit & Myth Productions, coming to life at Vertigo Theatre from May 17 to June 1. 

In the perfect balance between romance, fantasy and comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is set simultaneously in Athens and Fairyland. We open with Duke Theseus of Athens (Joel Cochrane, also portraying Oberon) and the Amazon queen Hippolyta (Daniela Vlaskalic). Theseus is entreated by the Athenian Egeus (Michael Rolfe, also playing Peter Quince) to prevent the marriage of Egeus’s daughter Hermia (Ali Grams) to her lover Lysander (Bernardo Pacheco) rather than Egeus’s preferred choice Demetrius (Joel David Taylor). While Demetrius seeks to win Hermia’s heart, Hermia and Lysander are in love, and Hermia’s best friend Helena (Annisha Plesche) pines for an uninterested Demetrius. Rather than forsake their love, Helena and Lysander run away to the forest, and both Helena and Demetrius follow them. 

Another subplot involves a group of traveling players — including Peter Quince, Nick Bottom (Tyrell Crew) and Flute (Nikko Angelo Hinayo) — attempting to put on a play about the tragic lovers Pyramus and Thisbe. Meanwhile in Fairyland, the king of fairies, Oberon, is fighting with his queen Titania over a fairy changeling she refuses to give him. To punish Titania, Oberon enlists the help of his prankster sprite Robin Goodfellow, or Puck (Kit Benz). A magical flower causes Titania to fall in love with the first thing she sees — which turns out to be Bottom, transformed into a donkey by Puck. After seeing the four Athenian lovers in the forest, Oberon tells Puck to use the flowers on them as well, an assignment which backfires spectacularly enough to make it so that Hermia remains in love with Lysander, but now Lysander and Demetrius both love Helena, who remains in love with Demetrius. 

The set-up is one that invites glorious havoc, which the cast and crew of this production deliver in spades. The double casting is seamless, with both the actors and costuming working together to make sure the characters portrayed by more than one actor feel distinct and separate from each other. In some cases, you don’t quite realize the actors are the same until you’ve already watched several scenes. In particular Hinayo, who also plays one of Titania’s fairies, gets the opportunity to shine in their primary role as Flute, who plays the Thisbe to Bottom’s Pyramus and received widespread appreciation from audiences. But all of the players who pull double duty as Titania’s fairies are endlessly wonderful to watch, especially Crews, who entertains in his hilarious antics. 

Our Athenian lovers play up the physical comedy in their chase scenes and fight scenes, feeling like a unit even when they’re apart. A highlight is the chaotic fight between Lysander and Demetrius over a baffled Helena, while Hermia tries to intercede to fight Helena. Taylor is an incredible Demetrius, instantly endearing you to the character even though he’s a bit of a tool. Plesche’s Helena wins over sympathy and gets a lot of laughs in her pursuit of Demetrius, which are only increased once the tables are turned and Demetrius pursues her. Meanwhile Grams is charming as Hermia — it’s impossible not to like her — and has excellent chemistry with Pacheco. 

The lovers are an important part of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but so is the character of Puck, something this production perfectly understands. As Puck, Benz is mischievous, hysterical, high-spirited, amoral and seems to have the time of their life on stage. Anton DeGroot’s set design, filled with greens in an intimate space, is the perfect backdrop for a number of reasons but one is the trampoline used as a forest decoration that Puck gets to gleefully jump up and down on. 

Another fascinating production choice is the sound design, which occasionally used contemporary music — including but not limited to Hozier’s “Movement” and Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” — to ground the play into something we can recognize. It’s an admirable adaptation of Shakespeare, and speaks volumes as to the kind of productions we can expect from The Shakespeare Company going forward. Learn more about this production and their upcoming season on their website

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