Fond & foolish love & sport in Shakespeare BASH’d delightful, cheeky, passionate A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Julia Nish-Lapidus. Photo by Eliza Martin.

 

Shakespeare BASH’d opens its 2019-20 season with its own take on a magical, wacky fun Shakespeare favourite with its production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Catherine Rainville and James Wallis, choreographed by John Wamsley, with music composition and direction by Hilary Adams—on for a short run at the Monarch Tavern. As fairies make sport of mortals, so too do royals make fun of commoners in this delightful, cheeky and passionate tale of love, transformation and jumping out of your comfort zone.

Theseus (a proud and regal Nick Nahwegahbow) and Hippolyta (Hilary Adams, in royal Amazon queen warrior form) are preparing for their wedding. A meeting with wedding planner Philostrate (a fastidious and fabulous John Wamsley) are interrupted when noble Egeus (Megan Miles, with intimidating, harsh, unforgiving my-way-or-the-highway parenting) arrives, requesting judgement on her daughter Hermia’s (a feisty and forthright Eliza Martin) disobedience regarding an arranged marriage to popular young noble Demetrius (Mussié Solomon, bringing an edge of slick arrogance to the player vibe). Hermia is in love with Lysander (a somewhat nerdy, but sweet, turn from Justin Mullen); meanwhile, Hermia’s best friend Helena (a vulnerable, yet crafty and resourceful Nyiri Karakas) is in love with Demetrius, who now scorns her. Theseus orders Hermia to obey her mother or else face death or life in a convent. Hermia and Lysander hatch a plan to flee Athens—which Helena divulges to Demetrius in hopes of winning his love—and the four young people end up lost in the woods.

Also in the woods are a group of Athenian tradespeople, gathered to rehearse a play they hope will be chosen as entertainment for the royal wedding. Amiable and organized director Peter Quince (Miles) assigns parts to Bottom (an adorably goofy, child-like turn from Julia Nish-Lapidus, bringing considerable clowning skills into play), Snug (Adams), Snout (Nahwegahbow) and Flute (Wamsley).

Unseen by the mortals in the forest, a battle of wills rages among the fairies, between its King Oberon (Kate McArthur, combining an imperious, passionate presence with a soft, romantic heart) and Queen Titania (a fierce and sensuous performance from Zara Jestadt). He wants the young Indian boy in her care as a page for himself; and she refuses, having adopted the boy when his votary mother died. Coming upon Demetrius repelling Helena’s attentions, Oberon orders Puck (a gently playful Michelle Mohammed) to fetch a magic flower, and use its juice to make Demetrius fall in love with Helena. When Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius, both young men now love Hermia—leading to strife and betrayal revealed for the two women, and the possibility of a mortal battle between the men. Oberon has also played with Titania, using the flower to make her fall in love with the next creature she sees—which turns out to be Bottom, who Puck has turned into a donkey! Learning of Puck’s mistake with the young lovers, Oberon orders her to make it right; and having secured the young Indian boy from Titania, releases her from his spell and Bottom from her donkey persona.

Emerging from the woods, the action shifts to the wedding and a play within the play, where the sorted out lovers are given blessings, and the tradesfolk are invited to perform their comical tragedy, to heckles from the nobles—and hilariously over-the-top performances from Bottom as the hero and Flute as the heroine; and shy, bumbling turns from the terrified Snug and slow-witted snout (outstanding comedic chops, with big LOLs from Adams, Nahwegahbow, Nish-Lapidus and Wamsley here).

Featuring minimal, but very effective costuming, props and set, the magic is highlighted by Adams’ otherworldly music composition and brisk, tight staging. It’s always a good time with Shakespeare BASH’d and its ensemble, with text and intention-focused, accessible productions that make for an enjoyable and engaging theatrical experience, as well as fresh and contemporary takes on the Shakespeare cannon. You may have seen this play before, but not like this.

Just as the fairies make sport of mortals, so too do the nobles with the commoners—all in good fun, with the magic creatures making things right, while the nobles appreciate the tradespeople’s’ passion and enthusiasm. The magic happens in the transformations—offering different perspectives that can change points of view, especially when one is thrown out of one’s comfort zone.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues at the Monarch Tavern until November 17; please note the 7:00 pm curtain time. Advanced tickets are sold out, but if you come early, the good folks of Shakespeare BASH’d will try to squeeze you in (doors open at 6:30 pm).

ICYMI: Check out Arpital Ghosal’s interview with actor Zara Jestadt on SesayArts.

Up next for the company: A Very Merry Karaoke BASH’d (Friday, December 13 at 8:00 pm) at The Theatre Centre

Cymbeline (February 4-9) at Junction City Music Hall 

And a great chance to support a local theatre company: check out Shakespeare BASH’d’s Indiegogo campaign for the 2019-20 season.

Power, politics & cunningly crafted image in the riveting, brilliant The Virgin Trial

Bahia Watson (2017 production). Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

 

Soulpepper presents Kate Hennig’s The Virgin Trial, directed by Alan Dilworth, assisted by Katrina Darychuk—opening last night at the Young Centre. The companion piece to The Last Wife, the play was originally commissioned and produced by the Stratford Festival in 2017, with the final installment of the trilogy, Mother’s Daughter, to premiere at Stratford in this coming May-October. A riveting and brilliantly orchestrated look at power, politics and the cunningly crafted image of a young queen in waiting, The Virgin Trial incorporates modern dress and language as it explores cat and mouse, life and death interrogations following a plot against the life of young King Edward VI. A teenaged Bess, who would go on to become Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen; and Thomas Seymour, who was married to Bess’s stepmother Catherine Parr, are at the centre of the investigation.

The nicely appointed interview room in the Tower, with its elegant table and chairs, crystal chandelier overhead (set and costume design by Yannik Larivée, lighting design by Kimberly Purtell), belies the minefield of questioning, manipulation and thinly veiled threats that subjects will be subjected to—not to mention the dark and treacherous confines of the plastic-curtained halls without. Enter Eleanor (Yanna McIntosh), a ruthless noblewoman on a mission, and the smooth-talking Lord Protector Ted (Nigel Bennett)—playing good cop to Eleanor’s bad cop—to question young Bess (Bahia Watson) over what she knows about Thom Seymour’s (Brad Hodder) alleged recent attempt on King Edward’s life.

As the stakes get higher, the interrogators dig deep to find dirt on Bess, real or imagined, in an attempt to manipulate her testimony, as well as public opinion of her; slut-shaming,  leaking fake news, and playing on her own loyalties as well as those close to her to get the answers they want. Next in line to the throne—second if you ignore her half-sister Mary’s (Helen Knight) religion—Bess is highly suspect by association: her “traitor” “whore” mother Ann Boleyn and her suspected romantic ties to Thom, coupled with her outspoken, quick intelligence, make her a dangerous player in this game of thrones. The line of questioning turns to Bess’s possible involvement in the plot, pulling in her governess Ashley (Laura Condlln) and assistant Parry (André Morin), who both knew about and supported Thom’s romantic advances.

Outstanding performances from the ensemble in this intense, at times darkly funny and playful, tale of royal intrigue, machinations and a young woman’s growing sense of power. Watson is spellbinding as the complex, mercurial young Bess; a playful yet observant child wise beyond her years, Bess soaks up knowledge like a sponge and is able to manifest it into action with alarming speed and accuracy. On the brink of womanhood, her growing sense of power—both sexual and political—fascinates and excites her, the seeds of the fierce, savvy monarch who made history planted before our eyes.

The Virgin Trial, Stratford Festival 2017
Yanna McIntosh & Bahia Watson (2017 production). Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

McIntosh gives a gripping and intimidating performance as the stone cold, calculating Eleanor. Her menacing tone and bearing illustrate a particularly merciless variation of female badassery in this play, along with Knight’s delightfully wry, gives-zero-fucks Mary and Watson’s ambitious, rising future queen Bess. Bennett’s sleazy spin master Ted complements McIntosh’s Eleanor nicely; a master of image projection, and oozing false warmth and sincerity, while Ted’s methods are decidedly different, the desired outcome is the same. Hodder does a great balancing act with Thom’s likeable handsome rouge exterior and the lechery that lies beneath; a complex man whose alliances appear to shift with circumstance, one wonders what Thom’s true motives are.

 

The Virgin Trial, Stratford Festival 2017
Brad Hodder & Bahia Watson (2017 production). Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Great supporting work from Condlln and Morin as Ashley and Parry—at times offering some much-needed comic relief; as Bess’s closest confidantes, Ashley and Parry are both loyal, supportive and a bit laissez faire with her. Perhaps their close proximity to celebrity, and a possible future queen, has clouded their better judgement, blinding them to what’s really going on behind the scenes and how they’re implicated in Bess’s actions.

 

Ambition, power and public image feature prominently. Underestimated and undervalued, Bess truly believes that she was meant for better things. She is not the innocent she appears to be; and there’s far more than meets the eye to this young woman whose secret heart is set upon the throne.

The Virgin Trial continues at the Young Centre until February 3, including a special matinée performance added on January 31 and a 7:00 performance added on February 3. Advance tickets available online or by calling the box office at 416-866-8666 or 1-888-898-1188. Get on those advance bookings to avoid disappointment.

In the meantime, check out the trailer: