By William Shakespeare. Sport for Jove Summer Season. Director Sean O’Shea. Bella Vista Farm. 16 Dec – 30 Dec, 2022. Everglades Gardens, Leura. 7 – 22 Jan, 202.
Reviewed : 17 December, 2022*
The setting is wonderful. The high, open surrounds of a colonial farmhouse in Baulkham Hills. An outdoor stage framed by a garden of creepers and icehouse roses. Patrons picnicking on rugs or plastic chairs in summery December … or not!
Summer December it isn’t. The day has been cool, so we take a jacket. But the wind has come up, so we quickly grab a small blanket from the car. It’s not enough! Wiser patrons are wrapped up in rugs and scarves, some in all-weather gear. They’ve been here before! But none of us has anticipated the creeping cold or the brief shower of rain midway through Act 5!
Despite the weather, the vibe is wonderful. Happy Sport for Jove followers are excited to have them back with the Bard after two missed summer seasons. Families and friends are sipping and sharing snippets of news. Birds chirrup as they nest in the old trees that surround the homestead. Every now and then a bat squeals as it sets off on its night flight.
It’s an ideal setting for The Dream – especially a production directed as innovatively as this! One seldom expects productions of The Dream to be ‘straight’ these days, but director Sean O’Shea has incorporated twists that add some contemporary representative zing! None of the lines are changed – though one or two asides are added! – and all are articulated beautifully. But an innovative change in names – and a magical body swap – give O’Shea and his cast something more current to play with, and the opportunity to improvise ideas and clever bits of fun that add to the collaborative feel of the production.
Imagine, for instance, that the four lovers were three men and one woman! Or that Titania and Oberon could change roles. Imagine that, rather than being mercurial, Puck is a mature housemaid, who’d never be fast enough to “put a girdle round about the earth
In forty minutes”. Imagine that Nick Bottom is, in fact, Nicole Bottom, and that Peter Quince is besotted with her!
Imagine too, that the actors who play Puck and Nicole Bottom are the only actors who play just one role. In fact, the four actors who play the lovers – Jade Fuda, Darius Williams, Rupert Bevan and Toby Blome – also play Titania’s fairies and the artisans. And they never miss a line or the fast costume changes. They all are convincingly confident, whether as thwarted lovers, languid fairies or captivatingly over-the-top artisans, and fill the stage with spirited but controlled energy.
Claudia Ware plays Hippolyta … and Oberon; and Jake Speer plays Theseus … and Titania. That’s the ‘body swap’ – and the way the actual change is made is a nice piece of direction.
Giles Gartrell-Mills plays Egeus and Peter Quince, and obviously enjoys the possibilities that the change from patrician to peasant presented.
Bishanyia Vincent finds similar possibilities as Nicole Bottom, adding feminine panache to the over-confident enthusiasm Shakespeare wove into the weaver’s Role – and her wide-eyed disbelief when under the spell of “love in idleness” was beautifully played.
As Puck, Wendy Strehlow brought the experience of a skilled performer who accepts the challenge of a twist that completely rotates the character. Her Puck shows the measured assurance of age as well as the acknowledgement of ‘station’, and her appeal to the audience is immediate. Strehlow uses pace and timing to great effect – and both were obviously just what O’Shea envisaged when he decided how Puck would be represented.
This production finds all the mirthful possibilities of The Dream and adds some avant-garde daring! Hopefully real summer weather will return and make the remainder of the season – a little more comfortable for this enthusiastic cast who bare a little more than their talent in this happy, pacy interpretation of the Bard.