Te Whaea - Basement Theatre, 11 Hutchison Rd, Newtown, Wellington

13/02/2020 - 29/02/2020

Production Details

by William Shakespeare

Summer Shakespeare

Love turns the world upside down

Clothes and social skins are shed, nice people turn nasty and imaginations run riot.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream will create a pop-up theatre event of one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays. Expect ferociously beautiful poetry, robust physicality, anarchic invention and a donkey, as Shakespeare’s oh-so-magical play is brought to life this summer. It’s a love letter and a cheeky wink to Wellington’s art culture, built by a team of talented and passionate theatre makers. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the perfect opportunity to experience the Bard at his best!

Directed by Shane Bosher (Director of the Year by the NZ Listener four times), the play interrogates the social demands, conflict and gender dynamics that every day people currently experience and in their own way, learn to overcome.

For the first time in Summer Shakespeare’s 31 year history, it will be performed indoors. As an organisation, Summer Shakespeare has constantly reinterpreted its relationship to space-jumping from Te Ngākau Civic Square to The Dell, to the carpark of a cinema complex. The Basement Theatre space allows the cast & crew to focus the storytelling, avoid pesky wet weather cancellations and create a rambunctious spirit of play between actor and audience.

Director Shane Bosher says; “I’ve always been struck by how this play connects with audiences, regardless of age or experience. The language is accessible and there is a great spirit of democracy in the storytelling – we jump from lovers to fairies to mechanicals to royals. We’re in the midst of rehearsal – Australia is burning and Trump is continuing his crimes against humanity. We need theatre to tell us that we are not alone, that there is possibility in the world. Dream does exactly that.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Basement Theatre, Te Whaea, features an ensemble of emerging New Zealand talent including Ariadne Baltazar (Capital E’s Mr McGee and the Biting Flea), Grace Hoet (Chapman Tripp Best Actress 2001), Dryw McArthur (nominee for Most Promising Newcomer, Wellington Theatre Awards 2019), Andrew Clarke, Phil Peleton, Jake Brown and Catherine Zulver.

Te Whaea: National Dance & Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Road, Newtown, Wellington
Basement Space
Thursday 13 February – Saturday 29 February 2020
7pm Tues-Sat; 4pm Sun
(no shows Mondays).
$25 Full / $15 concession
Tickets available from summershakespeare.nz
and/or https://nz.patronbase.com/_TeWhaea/Productions/SST/Performances

Oberon – Grace Hoet
Titania – Catherine Zulver
Puck – Ariadne Baltazar
Hermia – Aimee Sullivan
Helenus – Dryw McArthur
Demetrius – Matthew Staijen-Leach
Lysander – Andrew Clarke
Bottom – James Bayliss
Hippolyta/Cobweb – Sara Douglas
Theseus – Hamish Boyle
Egeus – Phil Peleton
Quince/Peaseblossom – Charlotte Dodd
Flute – Jake Brown
Starvling – Rosemary Lewis
Snout – Lucy McCarthny
Snug – David Bowers-Mason
Fairy/Moth – Zoe Crane
Mustardseed / Philostrate – Finnian Nacey
Bodyguard – Slaine McKenzie

Production Team
Director – Shane Bosher
Producer – Keely McCann
Production – Joshua Tucker
Marketing – Medici Arts Management
Stage Manager – Alyssa Hatton
Assistant Stage Manager – Mikayla Heasman
Costumiers – Polly Filla & Meredith Dooley
Intimacy Direction & Fight Choreography – Carrie Thiel
Choreography – Charlotte Dodd
Technical Operator – Riley Gibson
Wardrobe Assistants – Ruby Longworth & Penny Wyatt 

Theatre ,

Sets a new high bar for Wellington’s Summer Shakespeare

Review by John Smythe 21st Feb 2020

Last night, a week into its run, I caught up with Summer Shakespeare Wellington’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Shane Bosher, and I have to say it works … well, like a dream. There are no weak links; everyone totally owns their choices, the pacing is spot-on and the physicality is exceptional – not only for its dexterity but also, often, for its comic timing.

Having shared the disappointment it wasn’t outside, allowing the annual ritual of a preshow picnic with friends, and having felt dismayed the Basement space at Te Whaea was this year’s venue (it’s the diametric opposite of the Botanical Gardens’ Dell) we discover there are many plusses to compensate. Most importantly, everyone is clearly seen and heard without the need of radio mics or hyper-raised voices. The focus is where it should be: on the characters and their relationships. And while last night’s clement weather conditions would have been ideal for ‘under the stars’, other nights may have been problematic. Here, we are more readily ‘transported’.

As in Shakespeare’s time, the setting is non-specific, allowing for instant changes of location; the text always tells us where we are. While no designer is credited, the blue-painted walls and structural pole serve the dreamscape in which we are immersed, as Puck reveals in the epilogue. The mortal characters arrive through solid double doors while those from the Fairy realm emerge through a wall of watery plastic.

There is also a ‘dream logic’ in the costuming (by Pollyfilla and Meredith Dooley). Catherine Zulver’s lively yet sensuous Titania is silk and fur-clad, like a latter-day Veronica Lake, while her desultory fairies – Moth (Zoe Crane), Peaseblosson (Charlotte Dodd), Cobweb (Sara Douglass) and Mustardseed (Finnian Nacey) – are from a more contemporary era of tawdry cabaret.

Grace Hoet’s black leather-clad Oberon is a formidable wāhine toa whose mana is confidently worn, whether giving orders or cogitating as to how best to deal with a problem. Ariadne Baltazar is a force of super-nature as Puck.

The Athenian lovers are in contemporary middle-class clothes while the patriarchy – Phil Peleton’s imovably patrician Egeus and Hamish Boyle’s smugly entitled (until he isn’t) Theseus, attended by his bodyguard (Slaine McKenzie) – are in crisp grey suits and ties. Sara Douglas’s defeated Amazon Queen, Hippolyta, clearly hates the constraint of a 1950s evening gown, let alone her impending nuptials with Theseus. She gains the upper hand in the end, by the way, in wordlessly affirming the lovers’ choices.

As with all of Shakespeare’s comedies, the action ante is upped by an authoritarian threat of death for failing to conform to a conservative society’s expectations – specifically a daughter’s duty to obey her father. And this production’s gender-flipping of Helena to Helenus works a treat. So in the immediate backstory, Demetrius declared his love for Helenus then, on discovering his mate Lysander was in love with Hermia, he’s decided he is too. And her father, Egeus, prefers Demetrius as a son-in-law – but Hermia requites Lysander’s love and has thus incurred her father’s wrathful demand that the lethal laws of Athens be brought down on the young rebels unless they obey his wishes.

Dryw McArthur makes poignant and comical good sense of Helenus being dumped by Demetrius and the resulting self-esteem issues that makes him doubt the love he so craves when it is suddenly offered in abundance. And Matthew Staijen-Leach clearly reveals, in his IV.1 response to Egeus, that his assertion of love for Hermia was born of self-loathing and now he realises – albeit assisted by the doting drug (which the text does not indicate is reversed, as it is with Lysander) – that his love for Helenus is true. The way Egeus wordlessly lets the fact of gay male love sink into his reluctantly waking consciousness is beautifully nailed by Peleton.

Meanwhile Aimee Sullivan’s Hermia gives us a proto Beatrice (from Much Ado About Nothing) in the face of Lysander’s unwittingly drug-fuelled duplicity, robustly realised by Andrew Clarke. The fight choreography and intimacy direction by Carrie Thiel is splendidly conceived and enacted by the lovers.

As for the ‘rude mechanicals’, giving them contemporary vocations –Nick Bottom the Brick Layer; Snug the Courier; Robin Starveling from Subway, etc – locates them in an amdram milieu all thespians can relate to (I even sense a resonance of Shane Bosher’s memorable Fringe 2000 solo, A Star is Torn).

Charlotte Dodd’s Petra Quince is the long-suffering and often bewildered director we have all been, or worked with. James Bayliss is winningly over-enthusiastic, rather than boorish, as the ‘leading man’, Nick Bottom – and his scenes as Titania’s ass-headed paramour are sublime. Jake Brown’s reluctant ‘leading lady’, Francis Flute, explores a wondrous comedy-of-fragility.

Lucy McCarthy astutely build’s Snout from a keen and supportive onlooker to a star-struck immovable wall. Rosemary Lewis compels our sympathy for her audience-thwarted attempts to play the moon. And we have never seen so lovable a lion as that given by David Bowers-Mason – although the sudden relish he brings to his ravenous role in The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe reminds us the quiet ones are the ones to watch.

By dropping the second prologue, Bosher creates the space for the actors to explore more comedic opportunities than usual in Pyramus and Thisbe without outstaying their welcome. The result is refreshingly funny. And in true Globe style, the Bergomask dance (choreographed by Charlotte Dodd) is a joy to behold as it inexorably draws the Athenians into its revels.

The lighting (uncredited) and sound (designed by Isaac Kirkwood) are dynamically operated by Riley Gibson, adding to the impressive crafting of the whole production. This A Midsummer Night’s Dream sets a new high bar for Wellington’s Summer Shakespeare.


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Infectious fun with problematic elements

Review by Emilie Hope 14th Feb 2020

It’s that time of year again when Summer Shakespeare makes its mark and showcases some of Wellington’s best young talent. This year, they retreat indoors to the Basement space at Te Whaea, for the first time in Summer Shakespeare’s 37 year history (except for the odd bit of wet weather cover), to give us a confetti-heavy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Shane Bosher.

In this version, two characters are gender-swapped: Oberon (Grace Hoet) becomes a woman and Helena becomes Helenus (Dryw McArthur), with other characters being relatively gender fluid and the cast being nearly of equal gender (in binary terms; the cast is an odd number). 

The audience is seated on two sides of the blue square stage, the floor raised by three centimetres or so and taped down for safety. There is a clear plastic curtain lining upstage. This space (designed by Joshua Tucker) has an air of Peter Brook’s production of Midsummer and seems modern and neutral, able to bend and adjust to the players on stage, but I still wonder what the space is meant to be while these characters inhabited it. An underground club? The loud pop music playing during scene transitions would have us think so but the music seems disconnected from the story and even attitudes of the characters. It seems unlikely that poncy royals such as Theseus (Hamish Boyle) would dare to dirty himself in an underground club. An underground forest? Is it meant to be a comment of our heavily concreted world which goes against our natural one? It’s possible, but I find no strong indication of either interpretation. 

We start with the royals and lovers who strut on stage wearing gloomy all-black costumes. Theseus is about to wed Hippolyta (Sara Douglas) and tasks Philostrate (Finnian Nacey) to find some entertainment, when he is interrupted by Egeus (Phil Peleton) concerning the ‘issues’ he is having with his daughter, Hermia (Aimee Sullivan). She will not marry Demetrius (Matthew Staijen-Leach) as she has been bid, asking instead to wed Lysander (Andrew Clarke). Peleton has a fun time spiting Lysander’s name with heavy emphasis on ‘lice’.

In this first scene alone, I see the gender power imbalance. Firstly, Douglas’s Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, has no status. She speaks softly and does not command the space as a queen. Boyle is especially good at playing an arrogant power-hungry ruler who is never redeemed for the audience, but Hippolyta should be able to match him in some way, otherwise we feel this woman has no agency and cannot really approve of their marriage. Amazons are warriors, they fight back, and this Hippolyta has no bark nor bite.

Secondly, the text itself holds massive gender imbalances as Theseus tells Hermia, “To you, your father should be as a god,” and later Egeus himself says “As she is mine, I may dispose of her,” to whomever he deems would be a good match – Demetrius. What further terrifies me is that the staging of the characters have all the men – Theseus, Egeus, Demetrius, Lysander, Philostrate, and even the bodyguard (Slaine McKenzie) – in a semi-circle around Hermia, with Hippolyta sitting passively on the exterior. To me, this demonstrates how Hermia has to overcome the patriarchy in order to marry her love, and even then, Lysander could still hold the views of ownership of her as her father does. If this play is to be set in a modern era, why not make Egeus a mother and complicate the narrative? Or to bring the queer context from the first scene, make Lysander Lysanda?

Demetrius himself is a problematic character. I understand that Bosher wants to make Demetrius a bisexual character as Lysander emphasises he is an “inconstant man”. In this bisexual context, this line is homophobic and would do well to explore Lysander’s narrative of masculinity, especially when he himself falls in love with Helenus after the love potion, but this never happens. Demetrius himself shows no flicker of requited affection towards Helenus; Helenus tells us “The more I love, the more he hateth me.” And yet after the potion is placed on Demetrius’s lids and he falls in love with Helenus, the antidote is never given. This shows us that Demetrius is not bisexual, reinforces homophobia, and leads to an incredibly problematic relationship as Demetrius can only love Helenus while being under the influence of a love potion. This could be amended if we saw Demetrius give some kind of affection towards Helenus – not necessarily via the text, but indeed when he has no lines at all – and that the antidote is given to Demetrius, proving that he was in love with Helenus all along. Such an oversight is disappointing coming from a queer director.

The Mechanical scenes are a delight to watch. Charlotte Dodd plays a by-the-book Petra Quince; Rosemary Lewis, a quiet Robin Starveling, the Subway sandwich maker; David Bowers-Mason steals our hearts with his lovable dopey face as a Courier Post worker Snug; James Bayliss demands to be seen as construction worker Bottom and also as Pyramus; Tammy Snout is played by an enthusiastic Lucy McCarthney, a shop assistant; and Jake Brown plays Francis Flute with an adorable innocence. These scenes really are the playful, fun, and refreshing scenes we would expect from such clown characters.

We first transition into the fairy world with the help of Todrick Hall’s ‘Attention’, an excellent choice to have in a queer production. Moth (Zoe Crane) walks on in a green fluoro dress, pearls, and an oversized fluoro yellow wig and I expect her to slay with some dance moves. However, this doesn’t happen. Indeed, the majority of the choreography (by Charlotte Dodd) seems underwhelming, and a lot of the song choices seem off, such as beginning the intermission with Austin Power’s theme music and closing the production with P!nk’s ‘Raise Your Glass’. Why not promote queer artists? If the space is meant to be a queer club, using songs by Hall would have been excellent at keeping us within the world, and fierce sassy moves to go with them would have got the audience jumping in their seats. This seems like a lost opportunity.

The fairies themselves seem mismatched. Catherine Zulver as Titania is beautiful in her champagne slip dress and fur coat, commanding the space and her fairies. She explains Titania’s concerns with the Indian changeling boy she refuses to give to Oberon in an empathetic way and we are on her side. Comparatively, Oberon needs to make us feel the child should be hers. Yet Hoet has trouble commanding the space like Zulver, difficulty even in walking due to shoes she is not comfortable in, and has instilled no fear in unruly Puck (Ariadne Baltazar). It is difficult, then, to see how much damage Oberon and Titania’s argument is having on their world when Oberon has no status, and Zulver and Hoet have no chemistry. Baltazar constantly interacts and looks at the audience when speaking, a traditional Shakespeare style, while Hoet seems to look above our heads, bypassing any connection with us in a way that is not in her favour.

Baltazar’s performance is one that gives and gives with rueful grins and mischievous expressions one could miss if not watching her closely, her energy expanding out of her, and yet it falls flat. The audience does not laugh easily at her quips and this may be because we are confused by the relationship between Puck and Oberon, as it seems Puck has no reason to be a servant of Oberon.

Despite all of this, the cast is wonderful. The scene where the lovers argue over the two men now being in love with Helenus is captivating and funny. Sullivan holds her own against these men, giving herself chances to be laughed at and not so serious but returning with a vigour that befits the famous line, “And although she be but little, she is fierce.” Staijen-Leach brings a soft lovable quality that almost makes us forget the problematic nature of Demetrius. Almost. Clarke as Lysander is upstanding and fun, and we see why Hermia loves him. McArthur plays the heartbroken Helenus to us, the audience, and although I see him as often petulant, at least I understand him. The plight of unrequited love is a ruthless one.

Bayliss takes command of the space wherever he is, as Bottom or as a donkey beloved by Titania. The line between pedant and comedy is one he walks well, with the help of some slapstick humour. Even McKenzie, who plays the role of bodyguard for Theseus, is stern and stiff in his resolve, following his master and protecting him from Bayliss’s unwanted high-fives. However, by the final number, he decides to stick it to the man and join the final dance by taking off his aviators and tossing them into Theseus’s lap as a way of resignation. It’s the little moments of the show that I enjoy the most, and watching the actors, all of them, have incredible fun on stage.

This fun is infectious and indeed the audience gets swept up in the fairy spell along with the Athenians. The use of the shiny large confetti released by the fairies’ entrance remains on stage, and sticks to the actors’ sweaty bodies in a way that reminds us this is the fairies’ doing and nothing will be the same henceforth.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is well worth a watch with the easy to follow streamlined script and to support the actors, but I wonder if perhaps a bit more thought should have gone into some of the story elements. 


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