A Midsummer Night’s Dream

August 18, 2009 at 1:04 am | Posted in Play Review | Leave a comment
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August 15, 2009 by Show_Hanger

The other night I went to Toi Whakaari‘s – New Zealand Drama School – production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Previous productions that I have seen did not really hold my attention, but I was intrigued by the billing around “circus and burlesque”. so off I went.

There was an air of expectiaon in the lobby, and when we were allowed in the theatre space, there was more promise – circular seating: theatre in the round with just a hint of a circus tent.

The plot is quite convoluted: Hermia has two suitors – Lysander and Demetrius; Helena her friend has none – Demetrius having transfered his affection to Hermia; Lysander and Hermia run away, because Egeus (Hermia’s brother) favours Demetrius; in the woods Lysander and Demetrius are bewitched into loving Helena; and by the time it is all sorted out out Lysander is back with Hermia and Demetrius is back with Helena; oh, someone else is turned into a donkey; and there is a play within a play.

The directing team – Josette Bushell-Mingo and her assistant Julian Pellizzaro – are to be thoroughly congratulated. The circus and burlesque techniques fit perfectly into the story; they are not a clever contrivance that stands out. Of course fairies waft through the air on tissu. Of course mischeivous sprites are nasty clowns. Burlesque makes the lovers and attractions a little earthy, but its what happens in the darkly enchanted forrest at night! Bottom and Titanias’ attraction to each other is a physical attraction – it is not the plutonic attraction more often seen in BBC-type productions – the burlesque approach removes all doubt as to what they are really getting up to.

Deborah Pope is to congratulated for teaching the drama students circus skills and polishing them to a performance standard, and not doubt working the circus into the wider play. The drama students are to be congratulated for mastering circus techniques and employing these in the play. Particularly: the tissu performers; Moana Ete’s suspened hoop work, as Titania; Jonathan Kenyon’s juggling as Lysander; and Tola Newbery’s stilt walking and bullwhip work, as Oberon.

I was so engaged that I took in the final play-within-a-play segment, which seemed like of a teaser for Romeo and Juliet. The casting of Tom Snout, the wall, played by Esmee Myers, as a mime artist was brilliant; as was the casting of Francis Flute, Thisbe, played by Sam Wang, as a kabuki player.

Three characters really stood out: Helena (played by Chelsea Bognuda), (Nick) Bottom (played by James Tito) and Puck (played by Micheal Leota). I found Puck a little too tragic; I prefer my Pucks more on the micheivous side. Bottom was just perfect. And Helena was how I imagined she would be.

Definitely worth going to; the theatre in the round combined with the earthy circus/burlesque approach, made for a ‘as Shakespeare probably staged it’ feel. I felt like I should have thrown money at the end!!



La Sylphide: revenge of the witch

August 4, 2009 at 1:09 am | Posted in Ballet Review | Leave a comment
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I went to a performance of La Sylphide put on by the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Warning: plot revealed.

August 1, 2009 by Show_Hanger

Having read about the Danish style of ballet, I looked forward to seeing a quitissential Danish ballet work. (Actually, the Royal New Zealand Ballet was founded by a proponent of the Danish style, so I should have noticed the jumps and active male partnering long before this!)

The programme:

  • Dances from Napoli
    • Pas de Six
    • Flower Festival
    • Tarantella
  • La Sylphide

– originally choreographed by August Bournonville.

I was struck by Flower Festival – Michael Braun brought lift and a sense of (his) enjoyment.

Then it was onto the main fare: a man – James – about to get married falls in love with a Sylph (a spirit). Who said the Scots were a dour lot! So off he goes – following his heart – leaving his own wedding celebration. It all ends badly: not the least because he humiliates the village hag (‘Madge’ – played by Sir Jon Trimmer, with a real feeling for the part). Michael Braun is James, and the Sylph is danced by Antonia Hewitt. Braun is powerful and controlled, and yet able to project the emotions going through the James character.

I liked the wedding – people enjoying themselves – with the Sylph fluttering in and out when only James could see her. The Sylph is very much the marriage wrecker – James trys to resist her, but he is just a foolish man. The wedding is made much more 3-dimensional by the prescence Effie’s little sister – danced wonderfully in character by Emma Brown. The Company is precise as ever, but a ‘little’ girl has shorter legs, so must occassionally run to keep up with the dancers in the reel – wonderfull.

Rory Fairweather-Neylan, as Gurn, was at times quite funny: “I saw a fairy – right there!”. In fact there is quite a bit of humour in the ballet; it is a pity that it turns out to be more along the lines of a Greek tragedy.

Antonia Hewitt and the other sylphs are light and ethereal. It cannot be easy dancing the sylphs, as Marie Taglioni was considered by Bournonville as the quitessential sylph, and it cannot be easy living up to such a legendary ideal. Effie the jilted bride is ably danced by Adriana Harper; the plot does not have very much for her to do, which is a pity.

The two sets – castle and woods – were very good.

I found the two intervals – one after Dances from Naploli, and the second between the two acts from La Sylphide – had the effect of making the evening very ‘bitty’. The very traditional choreography also added to the sense that this was a series of dances – unlike ‘newer’ ballets which have smoother transitions between dances. It seemed a little 2-dimensional.

But I did get to see an example of the Danish style. There were a many jumps – particularly by the men – and in the pas de deux‘s the women were unsupported and their male partners had equal time.

Being a softy, I wish James and the sylph had not died. But he was a most ungenerous soul on his wedding day – casting out the village hag into the cold. And he did break his oath, so he certainly got his come uppance.


I did not like the fact that the cast list is no longer handed out. The cast list from the web site differed from the cast list shown on the monitors in the foyer spaces.

Roll on the Company’s Peter Pan in October!

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