The Malachite Company has been doing Shakespeare in Edmonton for four winters now, and what a treat it has been to have Old Strathcona’s grand old Holy Trinity Anglican Church filled up with light and laughter and warmth and a few bits of Elizabethan tragedy each January. Last night the fourth Malachite winter and the first Winter Shakespeare Festival got off to an uproarious laughfest of a start with the first performance of an out-of-season Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was fortunate to go to this perennial Shakespeare favourite with someone who had never seen the Dream before (and to sit a pew in front of “Meg”, who also had never seen the play before, and who somehow became dear to the heart of Nick Bottom over the course of the performance). If this Dream had been my first experience of A Midsummer Night’s Dream what a joy it would have been (instead of that fairly ordinary thing I saw as a teenager with a man named Patrick Stewart playing Oberon).
The Malachite Dream is a joyous party of dance and song, thanks to Musical Director and Titania/Hippolyta Danielle LaRose and a cast of twelve others that put their whole hearts into filling the sanctuary/stage to bursting with happiness.
The Titania/Hippolyta Oberon/Theseus (Brennan Campbell) split rolls are handled economically and effectively with simple costume changes. Campbell’s Oberon very satisfyingly combines an air of noble control over his fairy-pranks with a quiet sense of confusion as he sees Puck’s (Colin Matty) errors send the fairy king’s plans spiralling into (in the end, harmless) chaos (as they both sit watching and eating popcorn).
Emily Howard & Owen Bishop and Sarah Louise & Liam Coady as the two pairs of young lovers, the material of the fairy-made confusion, do a remarkable job of making what are in large measure stock characters into individuals that we remember very distinctly the morning after the play. Very charming, each in their own way.
Of course, the play-within-a-play of the Rude Mechanicals is at the centre of the production, whatever the nobles and fairies may try to do. And, again, each cast member manages to take a very conventional character and bring out a very human individuality and even a bit of pathos. Chance Heck’s performance as Snout playing “Wall” is a surprising piece of dramatic eloquence. And the moment when the Nobles, now a part of the audience, poke fun at Anna MacAuley’s Starveling playing the Man in the Moon — a moment that could be a bit of painful cruelty, is turned around nicely, there is a moment of empathy across classes between Theseus the King and Robin Starveling, the young tailor.
All the above makes the Malachite Midwinter Midsummer Night’s Dream worthwhile, but . . .
Monica Maddaford’s Bottom is absolutely to die for! Clutching a copy of Melvin Bragg’s biography of Laurence Olivier, Maddaford rolls her eyes and chews the scenery and milks each scene both over-the-top and to just the perfect extent. Her performance is — by itself — a very worthwhile play-within-the-play-within the play. A fine and winding line between going to far and not going far enough is walked here by Maddaford, and she walks it perfectly without a slip. And on opening night, for goodness sake!
Much more could be written about this opening night, but better to just tell you to get down to Old Strathcona and enjoy the real deal!
The Winter Shakespeare Festival continues until the beginning of February. Julius Caesar will join A Midsummer Night’s Dream on January 9th. As well, the Festival will include two staged readings of a pair of little-known Elizabethan plays by Shakespeare’s contemporaries, The Witch of Edmonton and The Merry Devil of Edmonton. These readings will occur on the evenings of January 22 and January 29 at 7:30. Full disclosure: I have had the pleasure of adapting the Witch and the Devil specifically for the Winter Shakespeare Festival.