It was a sweltering summer night, but Alchemy Theatre and Vagabond Players’ co-production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a refreshing experience.
The Bernie Legge Theatre is tucked away in New Westminster’s Queen’s Park and its old age charm and intimate atmosphere are well suited for a step back in time … or not quite. (I’m getting ahead of myself!). Greeting attendees was Julian Legere, who played Peter Quince, and before the play began, fairies were frolicking through the aisles and playing their pesky fairy games with each other as well as the audience, which created a chorus of shrieks and giggles from fairies and humans alike. This both entertained and horrified me; it was fun to watch, but I was quite shy about the prospect of interacting with one of the Fae!
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most well-known and beloved comedies, and it continues to entertain audiences with its portrayal of young love and its obstacles, magic gone wrong, and, of course, dreams. While the love of Hermia and Lysander is often the focus of the play, the story also follows a group of wannabe thespians attempting to stage a performance of Pyramus and Thisbe, as well as a dispute between the king and queen of the fairies. The three subplots converge in hilarious and unforeseen ways, and the performers in this production added to the comedy with their sharp delivery and excellent stage management.
The play opened with an instrumental version of Lorde’s “Royals,” so I knew right away this was not going to be a classical re-enactment. School uniforms, Taylor Swift’s “Style,” and selfies? This was definitely not what I was expecting — but the incorporation of modern elements into the traditional Shakespearean script had an amateur Baz Luhrmann feel that was greatly appreciated by the audience, and during the intermission many attendees were commenting on how much they were enjoying the play, even though they did not fully understand the language. The expressions and gestures of the performers cut through the sometimes difficult Shakespearean language, making the plot easily understood while also greatly contributing to the general hilarity and enjoyment of the play. Simple costuming also complemented the modern adaptation (cellphones and petticoats do not mix) and made the play relatable to audiences who may not generally be fans of Shakespeare. The set, however, was not simple or modern, and was instead a beautifully crafted representation of the traditional enchanted forest.
The way in which the actors commanded the stage and utilized their bodies was phenomenal. The entire cast was impressive; they delivered their lines with clarity and energetic intonation, and were able to project their voices to the back of the theatre. If there were any mistakes or flubs, they were undetectable, which highlights the poise of the actors involved in the production. Bottom, played by Matthew Simmons, was a particular crowd favourite. He was complemented by the comedic performance of his ensemble, which included Julian Legere as Peter Quince, Alex Ross as Flute, and Julien Amar as Snout. UFV’s Joshua Tompke was particularly engaging as Oberon, and his bromance with Boris Bilic’s Puck was one of the biggest highlights of the night and earned them both copious amounts of applause.
Overall, I only had minimal complaints, so minimal that it would be picky to even mention them. The play was fresh and enjoyable and I encourage fans and non-fans of Shakespeare alike to attend, because I guarantee you will find yourself laughing, if not snorting, at the antics of this ensemble.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at the Bernie Legge Theatre in New Westminster until August 16, with shows Thursdays through Saturdays starting at 8 p.m. and matinées on Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m.