A Midsummer Night's Dream photo (c) Robert Catto / www.catto.co.nz. all rights reserved
Photograph by Robert Catto / www.catto.co.nz. all rights reserved

a midsumer night's dream
by william shakespeare

An unforgettable production

THE Bacchanals are champions of stripping away the frippery of fancy sets and too-clever-by-half reinterpretations of the Bard's plays, to get to the very heart of them.
            A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of the plays most tampered with by directors determined to stamp their mark and push the boundaries of its fantasy world to their utmost limits.
            Until now I've never liked the play, with poor old Helena pleading to be treated like a spaniel by a man who doesn't deserve her love, and the vicious cunning of Oberon. The Bacchanals, with just eight actors, one custom-made sofa, a very strange dog and a handful of sound effects, have helped me see the play in an entirely different light.
            While not played only for laughs, it's quite honestly one of the funniest productions I've ever seen. The lovers also play fairies, but when they also take the stage among the "rude mechanicals" you can't help wondering how on earth they're going to pull it off.
            They do, absolutely brilliantly, and by the time you get to the "play within a play", the costume changes reach light speed and you're laughing fit to bust.
            The cast is outstanding, this is ensemble work at its absolute best. The timing was exquisite, energy unflagging, characterisation spot on.
            Erin Banks takes on and nails the hardest role, the hapless Helena, while Alex Greig overacts to perfection as Bottom. Hadleigh Walker is particularly memorable as the geeky gay "Wall" (you'll just have to see it to know what I mean), with Natasya Yusoff showing dramatic and gymnastic talent as the impish Puck. Tina Helm plays Hermia with more than a nod to spoilt brat Paris Hilton and Irene Flanagan is a seductive Hippolyta/Titania.
            James Stewart and David Lawrence have been with The Bacchanals right from the start and it shows in their performances - magic. Lawrence excels also in his understanding of the Bard's poetry and his rich-voiced delivery of it, and he deserves another accolade (and a Chapman Tripp award at long last) as the director of this and all The Bacchanals' shows.
            As a critic, an unforgettable production is the perfect start to the year. This is it.
- Lynn Freeman


Theatre: Not-half-bad Dream gives standout performances

The relaxed alacrity of a Bacchanals Shakespeare gets the Wellington theatre year off to a delightful start.
            Last year they got in first with Romeo and Juliet before Downstage announced it in its 2004 season.
            This year their A Midsummer Night's Dream pre-empts the yet-to-be officially announced Circa season, wherein the Dream will play through August with an all-male cast.
            I saw the third night of the Bacchanals season at Bats. As usual, according to their principles, they deliver the entire text without an interval and with no complex staging, just simple but effective fast-changed costumes (designed by Erin Banks) and lighting (Joshua Judkins).
            With much doubling, trebling and multi-tasking, eight actors (including the director, David Lawrence) and one production/stage/technical manager (Judkins) get the whole job done, plus two extra songs, in a well-modulated two hours.
            The sense of a "skim read" that I noted last year is absent this time around. While maintaining a light touch and the sense of celebration it was conceived in (tradition has it the play was for an Elizabethan wedding feast), they hit their emotional marks with an authenticity that gives full texture to this oft-told tale.
            Their intelligent understanding of the text, and shared faith that it will speak for itself if they play it as written without over-statement (mostly), makes for a satisfying ensemble romp that belies the work load each individual takes on.
            The four Athenian lovers, at large in the enchanted forest to sort out their misbegotten love-lives on pain of death if patriarchal lore is not obeyed, are played by Erin Banks (Helena), James Stewart (Demetrius), Hadleigh Walker (Lysander) and Tina Helm (Hermia), who also play fairies and the "rude mechanicals" attempting to rehearse the tragical tale of Pyramus and Thisbe.
            They hope to perform it for the wedding of the Duke of Athens and Queen of the Amazons, Theseus and Hippolyta, played by Lawrence and Irene Flanagan, who also play Oberon and Titania, king and queen of the fairies.
            Alex Grieg plays the oppressive father, Egeus, and egotistical weaver-cum-thespian Nick Bottom, who becomes an ass to be doted on by Titania before (dis)gracing the nuptial celebrations with his Pyramus. And newcomer (from an acting career in Malaysia) Natasya Yusoff plays the mischievious Puck, a mechanical and the master of the revels, having also designed a splendid backdrop and sofa for the set and a fine set of masks for the fairies.
            For crisp clarity of word, thought and deed, and an unerring ability to bring all from the text without imposing extra garnish, Yussof's Puck and Starvelling, and Banks' Helena and Snug, are the stand-out performances in a strong field.
            The only bum note for me is the overblown excitability of Helm's Peter Quince, who would be much more entertaining if the full spectrum of am-dram directorial frustrations and pleasures were given its due in subtler form.
            While there's no doubt that this ensemble would do even better if some bodies and voices were as well tuned as their collective theatrical intelligence and commitment, The Bacchanals show yet again they can be relied on to make a classic accessible at every level, including ticket price ($15 waged, $10 unwaged).
            The nine performances at Bats, in Wellington, are followed by a dozen more in 11 towns over a fortnight (find details on www.thebacchanals.net ).
            Pub Charity and the 10 other sponsors listed in the programme can rest assured their support is well placed.
- John Smythe


Putting zip in Dream

THE Bacchanals get the theatrical year off to a loud, boisterous and comical start with a gallop through Shakespeare's Dream.
            With only a couch and a painted backdrop of a fantastical forest and just eight actors for the 21 or so characters, this is minimalist Shakespeare in the style The Bacchanals have made their own for their tours throughout parts of the North Island.
            There hasn't been so much hilarity to be had with the doubling of roles since Jim Moriarty played both Edmund and Edgar in King Lear and Jonathon Hendry and Carol Smith played two sets of identical twins in The Comedy of Errors.
            Velcro certainly has its uses as it enables the hard-working cast to switch roles with incredible speed, particularly in the final scene when some of the audience attending the Rude Mechanicals' play keep disappearing backstage only to reappear in an instant in deep disguise on stage.
            While there is no let-up in the pace, scene follows scene with admirable smoothness, there is at times a feeling that one is listening to the man whose party trick is to rattle off "To be or not to be" in under a minute.
            One or two members of the cast need to remember that the more haste the less speed and they could well follow the example of their director, who plays Theseus and Oberon, and hit their consonants, thus making their speeches intelligible.
            The comedy is played at full tilt though it is only when some sort of subtlety is injected does the laughter come freely. James Stewart's Francis Flute who plays Thisbe is a Mary Pickford wig is delightful as he holds up the rehearsal while he gets into the role and his suicide with a prop he has had to improvise demonstrates that comedy doesn't always have to be broad to be achingly funny.
            Hadleigh Walker's Snout also earns plenty of laughter when he plays Wall in Pyramus and Thisbe and Snout gets carried away with stage fright and the emotions engendered by Alex Greig's bombastic Pyramus. There's excellent work too from Irene Flanagan as a sexy Hippolyta/Titania and Erin Banks as a formidable Helena.
            The Bacchanals set out to emphasise the festive, celebratory, and theatrical nature of this most-produced of Shakespeare's plays, and judging by the reactions of the opening night audience, they succeeded.
- Laurie Atkinson,
Dominion Post


The Bacchanals are a Wellington-based co-operative theatre company whose name and logo link with the Greek god of theatre and wine, Dionysus; Bacchus in Latin. Perfect for a midwinter's feast of fantasy and laughter.
            The players arrive like characters around a Greek vase, noisily singing us into this well-loved play, occasioned by the nuptials of King Theseus and his Amazon queen, Hippolyta. Shakespeare's setting is in and near Athens, although we are reminded by Puck that the play is all a dream. To top it off, a backdrop from the much-loved Where The Wild Things Are story book hooks us into other dream stories and the brilliantly dynamic Puck (Natasya Yusoff) is clad as Maurice Sendak's hero Max.
            Directed by David Lawrence, who also plays guitar, then Theseus and Oberon, the king of the fairies, the production gives huge laughs, clarity of delivery and, above all, vitality and contemporary relevance of text. With all the cast taking on several parts, the comic potential of such demands is milked in the last act, where the coarse actors (including a wonderfully excessive Bottom, played by Alex Greig) and the pairs of lovers are on stage at once, each as two characters.
            The interdependence and timing of the cast, vibrant characterisations and excellent direction make for a phenomenal show. The company plans three shows in February: not to be missed.
- Gail Pittaway
Waikato Times


Sparkling production by The Bacchanals

What fun.
            A Midsummer Night's Dream was delivered at a spanking pace by this very talented young troupe, unfortunately to an audience of only 30.
            The production positively sparkled.
            Every speck of comic potential was exploited, and then some. The costumes were minimal and colourful and the quick changes needed by the eight-member cast were part of the excitement.
            The painted backdrop reminded members of the audience of the illustrations to Maurice Sendak's picture book Where the Wild Things Are. The night-time forest scene was weirdly evocative.
            The young actors' timing was immaculate throughout, and what with fights, fairies coming and going and love-sick teenagers lost in the forest, they had plenty of movement to choreograph.
            There were intervals of song and dance, in a range of styles, which added to the atmosphere. The music was written by the cast.
            The troupe chose to interpret the comedy fairly lightly, but Shakespeare's words shine through any kind of treatment. This play includes lines that have become part of our psyches, like "the course of true love never did run smooth."
            One broad theme that came through was of discord resolved into harmony - in nature, in the human world and in the fairy world.
            Stand-out performances included Irene Flanagan's sexy and sultry Titania, Erin Banks' troubled but assertive Helena and Alex Greig's Nick Bottom, the hammiest actor you could possibly imagine.
            The one jarring not for me was the dog brought on by one of the tradesmen actor characters. I thought it was too big, too metallic and didn't need smoke coming out of its head.
            The young folk got through the whole play in less than two and a half hours, with no interval to give the audience some relief from those hard Repertory seats.
            But one of the actors said, in the brief forum held after the play, that the group love the Repertory Theatre. He didn't say why, but its age is part of its charm.
            The Bacchanals have the laudable aim of making good professional theatre available to interested people in remote locations at least once a year. They had a full house at the Rep on the Friday, but their scanty audience on Saturday may mean they perform for only one night on their next visit to the city. This would be a great pity.
- Laurel Stowell
Wanganui Chronicle


The Bacchanals' interpretation of A Midsummer Night's Dream is a superb redefinition of the Shakespearian play.
            The classic mix of love, lust, confusion and the surreal are brought to life in this fresh, lively and unpretentious performance.
            The company's goal is to make theatre accessible to all economically, intellectually and geographically - and they were successful with their performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Te Kuiti Little Theatre on Tuesday night.
            The show would entertain any audience. At the same time it can be appreciated on deeper levels by Shakespeare or theatre enthusiasts.
            Whether or not you have any knowledge or interest in Shakespeare, the energy and passion of this show will entice and delight you.
            The quirks of the Bacchanals' performance are surprising and fantastically random. The enormous, mechanical, smoking dog is one; and it brings its usually timid owner (Robin Starvelling, playing "moon") to life in a strange and aggressive explosion of pride.
            The sexual undertones are the more humorous for their subtlety and trueness to life and parents need not worry too much; young minds will need to be sharp to catch on.
            The tragic play, Pyramus and Thisbe, which is performed within the show was one of the highlights. The over-the-top characters beautifully take the mickey out of actors and the theatrical world.
            A particularly brilliant comical performance by Alex Greig, who plays egotistical weaver/actor, Nick Bottom, who plays Pyramus (it's not so confusing when you see it) kept the laughter coming mercilessly with his overly dramatic portrayals of love, death and despair.
            Irene Flanagan's flirtatiousness, Natasya Yusoff's energy and James Stewart's brilliant quirks add to the show greatly, and Erin Banks and Hadleigh Walker also deliver excellent performances.
            The Bacchanals are interested in text-based literature and classics particularly, as they are "richer in what they say about the universe", says Walter Plinge, who plays Theseus and King Oberon. "And there are always new things to discover, new things to do."
            There were also unexpected spontaneous episodes to keep things fresh for the cast, such as when Thisbe, who, ironically, has practised how to expertly pretend to knock himself on the head with a club without actually hitting himself was dealt a blow by the weapon on the rebound anyway. This resulted in fits of giggles from the actors, who luckily were acting the entertained audience at the time anyway.
            The young cast of 8 expertly pull off the more than 20 characters of the play. They say that the costume changes are the hardest part. "If we can't pull that off it's not going to work," says Erin Banks (Helena, Snug).
            This aspect of the production was humorously worked into the play, with James Stewart at times going from being Pyramus' girlfriend, Thisbe, to Demetrius without a chance to change costumes, and even running across the stage to deliver one line and then the next!
            The story follows 4 young Athenians, Hermia, Helena, Demetrius and Lysander, who are a tangle of friends, lovers and foes. Lysanda and Hermia are in love, but her father wants her to marry Demetrius, so the young couple elope to the forest. Demetrius, who loves Hermia, follows them, enraged, while Helena follows (stalks) Demetrius, as he is the apple of her eye, even though he cannot stand her. The fairies of the forest stumble across this little soap opera but the King and Queen are having their own relationship problems.
            King Oberon casts a spell on his Queen, Titania, to make her fall in love with the first beast that she lays eyes on, who happens to be the weaver, Nick Bottom, who has been turned into an ass by Puck. Oberon also has Puck cast the same love spell on Demetrius to help sort out the unhappy tangle of love between the Athenian foursome, but magic, like love, is not always simple and the madness of the situation escalates.
            The Bacchanals are touring all over the country with A Midsummer Night's Dream; the next stop is Taumaranui.
- Waitomo News

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