Graham Hicks’ review of Midsummer  Night’s Dream 

Citadel Theatre, through April 29, 2012.

There’s a great charm to Tom Wood’s 2012 take on Midsummer Night’s Dream.

It’s not only about the oh-so-talented young actors from the Citadel /Banff training program, with whom  (Pride and Prejudice, As You Like It, Three Musketeers, Little Women) we are becoming quite familiar at this time of the year.

As always, the program actors work their own magic, being so thoroughly professional, but so vital and enthusiastic and joyous. And they are a true ensemble, having been through an intensive six-week educational exercise far more binding than your usual rehearsal period.

The charm is on top of this masterpiece of the English-speaking theatre, Shakespeare’s enormous talent turned to love, with three shows in one that continually interact, one with the other, of those inhabiting the supernatural world,  the Athenian aristocracy and its working classes.

Director Wood steers his audiences into Shakespeare’s  questioning of romantic love – its fickle nature, its staying power, its bewitching nature with and without love potions, and its ability to make asses of us all, not just Midsummer’s beloved Bottom.

This production concentrates with great success on the particular romantic foibles of  the four human lovers Hermia (Rose Napoli), Helena (Shannon Taylor) Lysander (Eric Morin) and Demetrius (Patrick Lundeen).

It helps that Wood has some of the most dynamic young actors in Canada to work with. Rose Napoli as the angry Hermia fights for her romantic expectations like a cornered tom cat, Shannon Taylor is  the professional victim, as the naturally love-struck Helena  so in love with Demetrius (Patrick Lundeen) who has only eyes for Hermia, who in turn has only eyes for Lysander (Eric Morin).

Midsummer Night’s Dream is  jam-packed with memorable moments and imagery and fun … but it’s the four lovers’ scenes of tenderness, romantic pain, pandemonium and humour that stick to the memory.

High praise indeed, for Julien Arnold’s Bottom is also theatrical genius – and the first re-interpretation of Shakespeare’s great comedy role to be worthy of that of the late, great Larry Yakimec’s Bottom in the Citadel show of some 12 years ago. 

Jonathan Purvis is a marvellous whirling dervish of a Puck. Michael Antonakos plays a most satisfying this-world-weary Oberon, king of the fairies.

There is but one deep criticism of Shakespeare’s great classics, and as far as I can tell, it’s absolutely insurmountable.

The set-up scenes are ponderous. The language may be the Queen’s English at its best, but it’s a thicket of cascading words in an archaic format  which we can neither fully physically hear (because it  pours out  so quickly) or interpret if we could actually hear, because it’s akin to absorbing a foreign language in which one is fluent, but hardly bilingual.

The reality of Shakespeare is most theatre-goers tolerate the drawn-out set-up scenes, only actually hearing perhaps half the words, and only understanding the meaning and intent of half of those again.

Hence there are crashing long interludes of boredom in much of Shakespeare, until the plots, and the action, starts to unfold. Lack of understanding Shakespearean language leads to a casual audience's boredom,  leads to a fear factor that keeps his shows from being as box-office boffo as they ought to be.

I have no solution … to chop  pages of verbiage might be an answer, but dare mere mortals mess with Shakespeare?  And to “modernize” the language has never, ever worked. 

In the best productions of Shakespeare’s best shows – and this one answers the bell on both counts – the set-up scene is mercifully short and we are soon on to the meat of the show.   And this is a beautiful production of Midsummer Night’s Dream that gets only better in the mind’s eye after the initial viewing.