I’m a bit late with this post, but better late than never, I suppose?
My girls and I were lucky enough to score front row tickets to the opening night of The Abbey’s current production last Tuesday. In the middle of last year, Kashmira (the ten year old) declared A Midsummer Night’s Dream (AMSD) her favourite Shakespeare play. It was the first she’d read that wasn’t a tragedy and I think that may have swayed her somewhat, as well as the whimsical nature of the dream scene. Ishthara (the 12 year old) and I are still staunch Romeo & Juliet fans, but are open to good productions of any of the Bard’s plays.
From the moment we took our seats, it was obvious that this was going to be a production with a difference. The mobility aid just beyond the diaphanous curtain was a bit of a giveaway.
The play opened with a gang of elders dancing around their care home to the strains of Johnny Cash’s Ghost Riders which is every bit as amusing as it sounds. Instantly, we knew that we were in a telling of the tale that had been catapulted into the 21st century. There were several nods to modernity and technology that were as clever as they were funny (I won’t give details, for fear of spoiling the surprises).
I loved that there were so few cast members under the age of sixty, and I loved their fluidity at portraying a version of their younger selves during the dream scenes. It was a touching reminder that we are only as old as we allow our spirits to become. And that love is not the preserve of the under thirty-fives.
This was Gavin Quinn’s directorial debut at the Abbey but I sincerely doubt it is the last time we will see the work of this talented director at the National Theatre. When I was training years and years (and years!) ago, I learnt that a good director is one who casts well and then stands back and lets the actors do the job s/he was convinced they would do well in the first place; who has a grand overview of how they want things done, shares that with the actors and allows them to play with the script interpreting as they are moved to. A great director is one who is available, yet not intrusive; who is supportive, yet not overbearing; who offers suggestions rather than dictates absolutes. Someone who holds the space and allows the magic to happen. A bit like a good midwife, really.
You can tell when actors have been well directed – they are more believable in their roles because they believe it themselves; so much so that they become the characters. I felt that very much with this production. The actors were so comfortable with the language that it was secondary. The language was a vehicle for the production rather than the production itself. In fact, the meaning of the language was conveyed so effortlessly that both my girls double-checked with me that they were listening to the original text and not a ‘modernised’ version. We were watching a play that had been written by Shakespeare, rather than actors ‘doing’ Shakespeare. There is a difference.
I appreciated the yellow and blue theme in costume and design that peppered the stage throughout the evening: Declan Conlon’s touch of midnight blue make-up served to accentuate his chiseled features and added a touch of menace to his Oberon. Although I was distracted by Shadaan Felfeli’s (yellow) langota when his (yellow) lunghi fell prey to gravity in the middle of his yogic headstand. I’m still at a loss as to why the yoga was there to start with – unless it was some sort of physical metaphor for how upside-down everything was?
As ever, with recent Abbey productions, it’s difficult to single one actor out for praise. They work so well together supporting each other in order to allow everyone to shine that the whole is always more than the sum of its parts. That said, I loved Peadar Lamb in his final scenes. He had me crying with laughter. Daniel Reardon (who made me feel dirty just watching him in Sive) made a refreshing Puck. Gina Moxley was a delight as Helena, while Máire Hastings, Stella McCusker and Máire Ní Ghráinne were delightful in their roles as Cobweb, Peaseblosssom and Mustardseed respectively. I could not take my eyes off Áine Ní Mhuirí and John Kavnagh in their roles as Hermia and Lysander. They rendered a touching tenderness for each other that melted my heart. Fiona Bell played Titania with a lightness of touch and an elegant grace that chimed beautifully with the lyricism of her lines. (Oh! And her dress, her lovely, shiny, sparkly silver dress!)
If you put a gun to my head, however, and told me I had to single one actor out, it would be David Pearse as Peter Quince in the play within a play. For me, Mr Pearse confirmed his comic abilities in She Stoops to Conquer so I knew I’d laugh when I saw he was in AMND as well. What I hadn’t expected was to react to his efforts when he entered to deliver the prologue to the metaplay towards the end. Struck with a bit of stage-fright, he stumbled over his words, stopped, started and squirmed. I felt for him, exactly the same way I’d felt for a young Donegal stand-up comedian in a comedy club years ago who totally forgot what he was supposed to be saying and completely corpsed. I sat in the audience, all those years ago, rooting for that young lad and willing him to go on – even to repeat himself if that’s what he needed to do. For a few seconds on Tuesday night David Pearse wrangled the same emotion out of me. Until I reminded myself that it was the character not the actor who was busy dying in front of my eyes. Then, with everyone else, I chuckled, giggled and laughed. A lesser actor would have milked that bit, and played for the laughs. But David Pearse is like the gifted painter who knows that one more brush stroke will ruin his masterpiece.
Look, I’ll stop gushing now, but suffice to say that this production is a terrific evening’s entertainment for all the family. We hadn’t left the building before my girls were asking how soon we could return and which of their friends they could bring.