Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee Street, Wellington

13/07/2016 - 23/07/2016

Production Details

A Midsummer Night’s Reality Show
Love looks not with the eyes, but with the camera  

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most well-known comedies. So how do six B-list (barely) celebrities handle the Bard’s word?

Set on a midsummer’s night, four young lovers find themselves wrapped in the dream-like arms of an enchanted forest where sprites lurk and fairies rule. While a feuding Fairy King and Queen are at war, their paths are crossed by Bottom, Quince, and their friends presenting a play within a play. Chief mischief-maker Puck is on-hand to ensure that the course of true love is anything but smooth.

Six housemates in a reality TV show play games of fantasy, love and dreams in Shakespeare’s most beguiling comedy.

Director Benjamin Haddock reimagines this classic Shakespeare play in the unique setting of a reality TV show with six actors playing over twenty characters in a fun and fast-paced comedy.

Big Brother is watching, and lord, what fools these mortals be!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee Street
13th – 23rd July
BOOKINGS: http://www.iticket.co.nz/events/2016/jul/a-midsummer-nights-dream-wellington
$25 waged / $20 unwaged plus booking fees 

Allan Burne as Edgar Smythe (Egeus, Bottom and Hippolyta)
Malcolm Gillett as Butch Wakka (Theseus, Snug and Puck)
Aimee Smith as Pear Oakly (Hermia, Snout and Titania)
James Locke as Maxx Ferrari (Demetrius, Flute and Oberon) 
Ivana Palezevic as Nina Rush (Helena, Starvling and Philostrate) 
Katja Romanski as Sasha K (Lysander, Quince and Fairies) 

Rebecca Gumbley as The BB Voice 

Sue Haddock:  Prompt
Aaron Blackledge:  Sound/Lighting
Sonya Thomas:  Props/Costume/Stage Manager
Rodney Bane:  Producer
Benjamin Haddock:  Director

Theatre ,

A clever and innovative pared-down version

Review by Ewen Coleman 18th Jul 2016

Anyone who has ever watched reality shows based on the Big Brother-concept will understand the idea behind Backyard Theatre’s production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, currently playing at the Gryphon Theatre.

In this instance, the “house” is known as Celebrity Locked In Lodge and the task or challenge the six housemates are given by Big Brother is to create a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which they do, and successfully, in just under two hours. [More


Make a comment

Delivered with a light and fluent touch

Review by John Smythe 14th Jul 2016

A blustery mid-winter’s night is the ideal time to enjoy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, especially when played with the fluency and fun that permeates this Backyard Theatre production.

Director Benjamin Haddock has reimagined this rendering as a Celebrity Special episode of a Big Brother-type show, with the ideal tones of Rebecca Gumbley’s voice-over setting up the premise and introducing the six ‘housemate’ players. 

Each actor arrives in the personage of a celebrity contestant who then goes on to play their designated roles in this episode’s challenge: to present Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A quick Wikipedia check of how the Big Brother franchise works reveals what a very good fit this is:

“From a sociological and demographic perspective, Big Brother allows an analysis of how people react when forced into close confinement with people outside of their comfort zone (with different opinions or ideals, or from a different socioeconomic group). The viewer has the opportunity to see how a person reacts from the outside (through the constant recording of their actions) and the inside (in the Diary or Confession Room).

“The Diary Room is where contestants can privately express their feelings about the game, strategy and the other contestants. The results range from violent or angry confrontations to genuine and tender connections (often including romantic interludes).”[i]

Certainly the plot of the play, and the process of their playing it, has all these elements, including the use of The Diary Room for the soliloquies. Somehow it works a treat to simply play out the relationships of the Athenian Lovers, the Rude Mechanicals and the Fairies in a space furnished with a bar, three leather sofas and a wing chair (for the Diary Room).

Of course there is lots of fun to be had with the six actors switching between three roles each, and helping each other out when the multi-tasking proves impossible. Ruffle collars designate the Athenians; silly hats, the Mechanicals; adornments from nature, the Fairies. Titiania’s attendants – Peasblossom, Moth, Cobweb and Mustardseed – are finger puppets.  

Fortunately the cast give only a cursory nod to the idea that they are reading their parts – they have learned their roles and we’re happy to accept that convention. While the premise allows for simple rendering of lines and actions, when they transcend their environment and make us believe in the story, it’s magical – which is pretty much the point of the play.

A display in the foyer reveals each actor has developed a back story for their ‘housemate’ character and even though these are not articulated in performance, it’s clear they inform the way they behave as housemates.

Allan Burns as Edgar Smythe (no relation) plays the cranky Egeus, the egotistical Bottom and a mop-haired Hippolyta with increasing alacrity, achieving an exquisite poignancy as he, as Bottom, tries to recount (or not) his ass-head ‘dream’.  

As Butch Wakka, Malcolm Gillett plays Theseus (the Duke who is willing to enforce a death-penalty law for disobeying a father), Snug the joiner who in turn plays Lion, and Puck. While he misses the inherent gag of playing Lion with great timidity (which may be a directorial choice), his butch playing of the sprite, Puck, is refreshing.

By contrast James Locke, as the smooth Maxx Ferrari, plays Oberon with an uncomfortably retro ‘he’s a fairy’ (in)sensibility. Actually he starts each Oberon scene with a faux deep voice then lapses into a fey persona which is very odd. His Flute/ Thisbe hits the right notes, however, and he’s entirely convincing as the drug-induced conflicted lover, Demetrius.

Aimee Smith’s Pear Oakley doesn’t find much vocal contrast between her excitable Hermia and Titania but she is very committed and articulate in both roles. Although I find the potty-hat a distracting oddity, she is amusingly simple as Snout who in turn plays Wall in The Tragical Comedy of Pyramus and Thisbe.

Starting the evening looking pissed off, Ivana Palezevic’s Nina Rush identifies strongly and eloquently as the self-loathing masochist Helena. Her Starvling/ Moon is a minimalist delight and her Philostrate is right on point.

Katja Romanski completes the cast as Sasha K who plays the other lover, Lysander, plus Peter Quince and the hand-puppet Fairies. Lysander’s non-specific gender is an intriguing touch and her Quince is appropriately authoritative.  

Aaron Blackledge contributes to the performance dynamics with well-wrought sound and lighting cues.

While it is probably wise that the players do not become too preoccupied with their housemate relationships, it does occur to me that more could be explored between that ‘reality’ and the make-believe of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. If the housemates were in the space as the audience came in, we could observe – in ‘dumb show’, as it were – how they feel about each other; especially who fancies whom and who does not. Then, as the play proceeds, the central premise of Shakespeare’s play could be expanded upon as we see how the roles they are obliged to play impact on their ‘real’ relationships.

Whether or not this is explored further during the season, this production delivers the Dream with a light and fluent touch. I really must stop feeling surprised at how so many contemporary actors perform Shakespeare as if they were born to it. It feels like a great boon to our cultural health and wellbeing that we can now, it seems, take this facility for granted.


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council