With endless exams and essays currently stretching out before us, nothing feels farther away than summer. Fortunately, the McGill English Department’s production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream provides a glimpse of the warmer months to come.
The show sparkles with youthful enthusiasm, and features a cast comprised of the Acting Lab, a class taught by Sean Carney, associate professor in the English department. The acting is the best part of this production, closely followed by its stunning set design.
Carney switches the genders of three of the four lovers in this production, giving it a refreshingly contemporary flavour: Lysander is Lysandra, Hermea is Hermeus, and Demetrius is Demetria.
As a result, the love affairs cross all boundaries with the introduction of a lesbian relationship between Helena and Demetria. For those who know the play, this gender reversal can be confusing at times; but it also creates an excellent contemporary layer.
Accordingly, the cast also revolves; many of the actors switch roles on alternative performance nights.
The costume team—helmed by Catherine Bradley and the students of the Costuming II course—should be commended for its use of textures and contrasting colours, which highlight the two worlds of the play: the Athenians and ‘Mechanicals’, and the fairies.
Although the pacing of the production lags a little at the beginning, once the lovers and Puck (vibrantly played by Stevie Pemberton) enter the forest, it picks up.
The set in the forest scenes has multiple levels, allowing the actors to directly interact with the tree onstage, often clambering over and through it. At times, however, these movements can appear clumsy and unrehearsed.
Lighting transitions aid in the deft switches between Athens and the forest. The production’s sound effects also enhance the audience’s understanding that many of the main characters are spellbound at some point or another.
Jillian Cameron gives an intriguing performance as star-crossed lover Helena. She portrays Helena’s jealousy and confusion skilfully, and gives the character a sassy twist that is relatable for a modern audience.
However, Stephanie Zidel’s hilarious portrayal of Nick Bottom is the standout performance in the show. She uses a mixture of physical comedy and clever acting to provoke laughter from the audience. The ‘Mechanicals’ (Elizabeth Brennan, Julien Dinerstein, Hannah Kirby, and Eléonore Buchet-Déak) are also entertaining; and their surprise, deadpan dance at the end of the play lifts the dwindling plot into a redeeming realm.
All in all, this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream injects newfound enthusiasm into a popular play. Professor Carney, your students all deserve As for their enthusiastic, vibrant performances.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs from Apr. 11 to 13, 7:30 p.m., at Moyse Hall. Tickets $10.