A (Musical) Midsummer Night’s Dream is an a cappella adaptation of the Shakespeare classic for Driftwood Theatre’s Bard’s Bus Tour. Composers Kevin Fox and Tom Lillington and Director D. Jeremy Smith have fitted this outdoor production with a groovy soundtrack and some modern flourishes.
Set in Athens and the surrounding forest, the story follows two sets of lovers—Hermia and Lysander (Marissa Orjalo and Nathaniel Hanula-James), Helena and Demetrius (Kelsi James and Nick Dolan)—as they flee to the woods to find and fight for love. Their desires are upending by a faerie king Oberon (James Dallas Smith) and his trickster errand boy Puck (Ahmed Moneka). Oberon has been feuding with the faerie queen Titania (Siobhan Richardson) and seeks to prank her with the love-inducing powers of a magic flower.
Thrown into the works is a group of local “mechanicals”—updated here as autoworkers and electricians—preparing their amateur play for presentation at a royal wedding. The buffoonish charisma of Bottome (Steven Burley), with his delusions of grandeur, is the flamboyantly beating heart of this troupe of endearing goofs. Cursed with the head of an ass, Bottome figures prominently in Oberon’s spiteful plan.
The mischievous minion Puck mistakes one Athenian for another and suddenly all the wrong people are falling in frantic, madcap love for each other. Confusion abounds and hilarity ensues.
The musical segments suit the text well, though there are passages I wished had been spoken. Puck’s final monologue comes to mind; as an apology to the audience, it seems improper to give it a melody as he’s stepping outside his own world to address us directly. The glam-rock, hippy aura of Smith and Richardson as Oberon and Titania was a highlight for me. With offstage cast members providing background harmony, the overall effect is delightfully immersive.
The cast (in dual roles) sells all the heightened emotions of this fluid and kinetic staging. As the lovers, faeries and mechanicals scramble about the woods, the actors carry their action far off into the distance, giving the impression of a larger world beyond the confines of the main playing area. And Julia Kim’s production design is minimalist yet rich with whimsical details.
As the evening draws on and the light darkens, the colourful glow of the stage lights envelope the action and give the textures an iridescent shimmer. This gradual effect makes the steady slide into enchantment feel all the more organic.
I was a little thrown, at first, by the lovers’s constant use of smartphones. Hermia and Lysander’s kissy-face selfies were somewhat distracting; though their behaviour isn’t that far removed from current reality and makes their youthful, love-sick antics more immediately relatable to the younger children in the audience.
My favourite part of this play has always been the fiery showdown between the four lovers. With heartfelt appeals to friendship, hilarious physical comedy and unabashedly mean name-calling: it always thrills me. And this cast captures that perfectly comic blend of bewilderment, one-upmanship and lustful fervour.
The mechanicals’ final, comically awful performance of Pyramus and Thisbe is always a crowd pleaser. Here, they perform it as an opera, which gives the funny over-acting dynamic new layers. Most intriguing to me, though, is a brief, meaningful choice made after Pyramus’ death. The humour usually fixates on the ridiculous lady voice the male mechanical Flute employs as Thisbe, but as she laments her dead lover, Hanula-James’ has Flute deliver the final tragic farewell out of character, with his wig removed and in his natural voice. It’s an oddly touching moment I’ve never seen played as such.
This fanciful and efficient interpretation of Shakespeare’s classic should make for an enchanting evening for the whole family. There are pads and fold-up seats available to rent, though it might be wise to bring your own. This production marks the 25th anniversary of Driftwood Theatre’s Bard’s Bus Tour. Check out the schedule for the times and locations.