Abrahamse’s Shakespeare fails to leave lasting impression

Abrahamse’s Shakespeare fails to leave lasting impression

SHOW: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
DIRECTOR: Fred Abrahamse
CAST: Terence Bridgett, Marcel Meyer, Kim Cloete, Sven Ruygrok, Sizwe Msutu,Malefane Mosuhli, James Macgregor, Nicholas Campbell, Hannah Borthwick, Luthando Mthi, Mdu Kweyama, Wiseman Sitole, Sipho Vara And Zondwa Njokweni
VENUE: Maynardville Open Air Theatre until March 16

There are quite a number of things to love about director Fred Abrahamse’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. It has a light, airy quality to it, as befits the play. It plays the humour well, something that doesn’t always occur with a Shakespeare comedy. They are rarely LOL affairs, unless you play it, like, super broad.

Like Abrahamse’s other, recent Shakespeare production ‘Richard III’, great care has been taken with the language, and every vowel and syllable is audible and falls wonderfully on the ear.
This makes the play very easy to follow, something that Shakespeare novices will appreciate. Oh, and it has Terrence Bridget in it.

Unfortunately, the production runs out of steam early on in the second half and doesn’t regain its momentum until the wonderfully bonkers finale; the staging of the play-within-a-play ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’.

What I think hurts the production most is that it feels transposed to the outdoor venue instead of designed specifically for the Maynardville space. It feels somehow barren; bare. It definitely didn’t own the space it was playing in on the night I saw it, and it most certainly didn’t take advantage of the pastoral location.

If anything, Guy de Lancey managed to establish a lusher, almost overripe setting in the Intimate Theatre with his Mechanicals production two years ago.
This production played at the Artscape Theatre last year (I unfortunately missed that one), so the fact that it appears swallowed by the venue instead of the set forming a natural part of the pastoral space kind of makes sense. Nevertheless, this could have been remedied.

Abrahamse must have worked with a rather limited budget, because he constantly has to find ways to make the production feel bigger than the numbers portray, and he does an admirable job in this regard. His use of laser lighting to render Titania’s fairy servants, replete with Mannemarak voices (if you don’t get the reference, you’re probably a post-94 child), is inventive and delightful, but it doesn’t make up for all that empty space.
I kind of felt sorry for the performers who had to traipse around in their underwear. The lack of body heat on that stage must have been a real bummer for them, especially as the night got colder.

As any Maynardville veteran will tell you, any production is made or broken by the quality of the performances. Here they range from the deliriously great (Bridget) to sort of wonderful (Hannah Borthwick) to ‘meh’ (Sven Ruygrok) to woefully dull (Kim Cloete). The fact that there isn’t an even keel ultimately results in a disjointed and underwhelming, if at times charming affair.

* Book at Computicket.