Sport for Jove at the Leura Everglades
The default summer outdoor Shakespeare play is without question A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The danger of it is that balmy air and soft lawns make it too tempting to go for whimsy and cuteness over the more interesting dark strands in the play’s weave. The director of Sport for Jove’s latest version, Susanna Dowling, spoke directly in the programme notes about working to find the comedy/darkness balance. Her idea to see the fairies as early punk musos was ingenious, as it tapped into the anarchic streak that makes them a little scary and edgy, rather than quaint. The kind of fairies who would smash up hotel rooms probably don’t care that much about the collateral damage of a few mortals. Titania as Patti Smith immediately tells us that this queen has a power not to be messed with. Although it sacrificed to some degree the atmosphere that can come from a beautiful garden setting, the gain was a greater clarity about what kind of creatures the fairies are, and why we should expect them to behave this way.
I’m not quite sure how the show was still so long given the severe cuts, including some favourite and some surprising passages. The introduction of Puck and the scene in which Titania first wakes and lays eyes on Bottom are usually considered highlights, as well as helpful for understanding what is going on. The four human lovers got a little more of the attention in this production, but charmingly so. It is this play’s tragedy that its Helenas are allowed to be funny, while its Hermias always seem to be auditioning for Juliet. There is a great deal of humour in Hermia that stays unmined, though it was helped out a little here by the physical comedy available with such a tiny actress, who can be thrown about the stage by her companions. The confused young Athenians were a pleasure to watch, but I kept wanting the director to push them just that bit further. The scene when the bedlam is at its height is best served when everyone on stage is reacting to each moment, not only when it is their turn to speak, and while these characters don’t actually hurt each other, we should have every reason to fear they might. As usual with Sport for Jove productions the verse and voice work was excellent, and the actors really seemed to draw energy from one another, and from the audience.
Personally, I am a big fan of a bit of rain during an outdoor performing arts event. It gives the actors an energizing edge, and makes the audience feel like comrades in arms. I understand completely how stressful it is for the performers and how inconvenient and uncomfortable for the audience. I directed an outdoor Measure for Measure that could easily have got me fired from my temp job at a bank with a great view over the harbour, as I spent a fortnight squinting anxiously at the horizon in the hours leading up to each show. But when it rains on a show, not quite enough to force a cancellation, it creates a sense of unity and also hilarity. So it rained on the performance of Dream we saw, on an afternoon almost at the end of the run, and everyone let themselves get wet and raucous, laughed louder, clapped harder, and got up and danced with the cast at the end, which is exactly what a company is looking for in choosing to stage a play vulnerable to the whim of nature.