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Reviews/Theatre

Fremantle Theatre Company casts a dreamy spell

27 January 2022

The return of Shakespeare to Kings Park offers a chance to be swept up in a vortex of comic bliss, writes Jan Hallam

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Fremantle Theatre Company ·
Saw Avenue Amphitheatre, Kings Park and Botanic Garden, 25 January 2022 ·

There are some dreams, in those early waking moments, that you are reluctant to leave. Those that uncannily infiltrate the borders of the conscious and sub-conscious worlds, creating a space where anything and everything is possible.

Renato Fabretti, director of this Fremantle Theatre Company outdoor production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, nailed it when he described the play as an invitation to throw off, for a few short hours, the weight of our guarded and restricted lives to gambol in the bush with some of the craziest bunch of people you are ever likely to come across.

In this production, he draws out and expands Shakespeare’s evocation of wild abandonment, the shrugging off of the constraints that define order and governance.

There have been many productions of the Dream that have leant heavily on creating a deep and meaningful diegesis by contrasting the brutal but orderly world of Theseus’s Athens – where life and love are dictated by warriors, and where winners rule – with the anarchic fairy world of Oberon and Titania – where the power plays are always nuanced, and the outcomes never certain.

After stirring from this Dream, I wondered at how much joy these past interpretations missed out on.     

An actor from Fremantle Theatre Company dressed in white t-shirt and overalls tips an esky of ice over himself. The scene is lit in a purple glow
Fremantle Theatre Company’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Photo: @jimbobthehomie

From the outset, Joel Jackson’s Theseus foreshadows his alter ego Oberon with vain abandon. His Theseus is a gorgeous, preening peacock with mother issues. Solonje Burns’ warrior queen Hippolyta is already bored with him and we’re only five minutes in. 

From this auspicious and surprising opening comes the loosening of ties and corsets and a complete unravelling of time and expectations. It is a riot it in all its glorious colours.

The ensemble cast is superb, demonstrating complete trust in each other as one improv merges into another, creating a comedy vortex that sweeps up the audience and hurls us into a place that isn’t Kansas – or pre-pandemic Perth. It’s absolute bliss.

While there is faithful adherence to the text, the actors’ intuitive playing renders a naturalism that befits the cathedral of trees in which we are placed, and they are ever-alert to seize the wildness of the moment, confident that their fellow players will be at their elbow.

The economy of the cast size means plenty of character mash-ups, and in the process some completely new characters emerge. Patrick Whitelaw carries the inherent violence of Hermia’s slave-master father Egeus into a Bottom that is less buffoon and more cranky “don’t you know who I am” thespian. His emergence from a night in Titania’s bower is a highlight as was his Pyramus’s death scene.

The quartet of lovers – Lucy Kate Westbrook (Helena), Tim Ogborne (Demetrius), Alexandra Harris (Hermia) and Jackson Rutherford (Lysander) – are young, beautiful deer caught in the headlights of this midsummer madness, dancing to an unfamiliar tune but loving every step.

And then there is Georgia Wilkinson-Derum’s rendering of Puck and Athenian-worthy Philostrate.

Puck is the central figure of Chaos but Wilkinson-Derum pairs Philostrate as its match for Order – both hold dominion over their respective realms, and for me that was perhaps the biggest dramaturgical revelation of the production.

Fabretti has wrested the power from the Crown and bestowed it on a minion best placed and suitable to fulfil their roles. It works a treat.

One can’t leave the mist of the Dream without another word on Joel Jackson’s wizardly antics. What a spectacle it is. His subversive, liberating performance sets free not only the cast, but the audience as well.

Thank you.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream closes 29 January 2022.  

Pictured top: A scene from Fremantle Theatre Company’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Photo by @jimbobthehomie

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Author —
Jan Hallam

Jan Hallam has been watching theatre for a living for the past 30 years. Working for both The West Australian and The Sunday Times, she has been lucky to have experienced just how diverse and talented the Perth arts scene is. When she’s not sitting in the dark, she’s staring at the light of a computer screen as editor and journalist. She’s the queen of the sandpit castle.

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