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A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (article first published : 2005-05-24)

Last week on a glorious evening under the stars, sitting on the provided cushions (thankfully!) in tiered splendour at the Pieter Scholtz Open Air Theatre at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, I was reminded what a beautiful performance space this is for large scale drama. Not so kind for the human voice, though, and much effort in projection and articulation is required to reach the sixth row, let alone those sitting at the back.

The occasion was a performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which marks the fifth annual FNB Shakespeare Festival presented by The Drama and Performance Studies programme at the University of KwaZulu Natal, Durban, in association with First National Bank.

The production was originally staged in 2001 at the first festival. Directors Mervyn McMurtry and Tamar Meskin have given their already successful production a “whole new look and feel” although I must admit that some of the changes explained to me where fairly academic and had escaped my observation.

It’s a big cast – some 44 in all, ranging from first years to MA students! – and generally they coped very well vocally. They certainly cracked it from a performance point of view. From the moment the action moves into the forest and we see Oberon and Titania stick fighting, there’s no let up of movement. Fairies are everywhere – up trees, in the bushes at the back of the stage and in the audience. No simpering lightweight sprites here – they’re robust, passionate and have a gipsy attitude that would do credit to the most hard-headed Romany!

Puck (Sean de Klerk) zooms about the place with a steering wheel creating planned – and unplanned – havoc. The Mechanicals steal the show, as always; the wedding ceremony turns into a Bollywood extravaganza, and everyone ends up happily ever after!

Particularly notable performances came from Janna Ramos-Violante as a cool and elegant Titania well-matched by Marc Kay as a brooding Oberon as well as Kim Sanssouccie as a volatile Hermia and Tessa Sessions as a seriously confused Helena!

As a commanding Theseus, Clinton Small later scaled a tree, donned an Elton John type disguise and played the drum! Verne Rowin Munsamy, the only member of the cast to have been in the 2001 production, impressed with his sense of comedy as Peter Quince. Brett Kyle was a strapping and amusing Nick Bottom while Zakhele Mhlongo as Francis Flute made an adorable Thisbe.

To do credit to the production, this review would need to be at least two pages long. Suffice it to say that it was consistently riveting, highly amusing, extremely innovative and true to Mr Shakespeare! Directors and cast, take a bow!

A Midsummer Night's Dream runs from May 17 to 28 nightly at 18h00 at the Pieter Scholtz Open Air Theatre (University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban). Tickets R20 (R10 scholars and students) with concessions for block bookings of more than 10. For bookings or any further information, contact Claudette Wagner on 031 260 3134 between 09h00 and 13h00, weekdays. Bookings can also be made via email wagnerc1@ukzn.ac.za or fax 031 260 1410. – Caroline Smart




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