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A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (article first published : 2007-09-29)

Cape Town has The Maynardville Open Air Theatre in Wynberg. Founded in 1956, it is one of the best-loved outdoor theatre venues in Cape Town and it is also internationally acknowledged as a fine host of Shakespearean productions.

Durban now has its own Maynardville with Under the Fig Tree, the Durban Botanic Gardens’ new amphitheatre situated under the spreading branches of the magnificent fig tree up near the Botanic Gardens Road end of the park.

Since his highly popular Brer Rabbit over 12 years ago, Garth Anderson and his Actors Co-Operative theatre company have presented at least one children’s theatre production a year in this location. While his delightful The Lunatic, The Lover and The Poet, based on scenes from Shakespeare’s most well-loved plays was his first production in the Gardens, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the first time Garth has presented a full-length Shakespeare play in this leafy venue.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a rollicking romp of arguing lovers, a kingdom of fairies in a power-struggle and a mismatched bunch of travelling players. It allows wide scope in its interpretation and the humour can be extended from the sublime to the ridiculous without losing Shakespeare’s original intentions.

There is much knockabout comedy in this production as the squabbling foursome, Hermia (Raeesa Abdul Karrim); Demetrius (Scelo Mbonambi); Lysander (Grant Jacobs); and Helena (Rachel Bruzas) fall in and out of love with each other through the misguided antics of Puck (Ben Bruzas).

The Rude Mechanicals, as Shakespeare termed his bunch of travelling players, is headed by Quince (Mary Gunn); Bottom (Rory Booth), Flute (Danville Ross); Snug (Nj Sithole); Snout (Travis Baker) and Starveling (Jonathan Bonner). The “play within the play” was greeted with roars of laughter by the audience.

Garth has Loyiso MacDonald and Tessa Sessions playing both royal couples – Theseus and Hippolyta as well as Oberon and Titania. Garth himself plays Egeus, the long-suffering father of Hermia. Others in the cast are Sinqobile and Nompilo Ngcobo and Nathaniel Bruzas.

The venue is perfect for this play. The young fairies emerge from bushes in their floating gowns and Puck is of so slight a frame that one feels he could almost disappear into one of the surrounding trees. The costumes are suitable and I particularly enjoyed Mary Gunn’s huntin’-shootin’-fishin’ outfit! Much of the comedy comes from Rory Booth and Danville Ross with Nj Sithole on crutches being a highly amusing lion.

While there is tiered seating in the venue, the grass levels are bordered by concrete so it is advisable to take padded cushions or a small camping chair if you don’t want a numb bum!

Under the Fig Tree will undoubtedly become one of Durban’s most popular outdoor venues. However, if more productions of the size of A Midsummer Night’s Dream are on the cards, I urge the Durban Botanic Gardens to spend a little more money on making it a proper performance venue. There is a strong need for dressing room space for the actors. At the moment, they’re changing underneath a tree screened by sheets – all very charming but not very professional-looking and certainly not offering the actors the respect they deserve. A simple open gazebo wouldn’t look out of place close by and this could be hung with canvas surrounds for privacy at performance times.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream will have performances every weekend until October 13 at 10h00 and 14h30. You can get tickets on 084 422 1422. It’s a perfect way to spend some enchanting outdoor family leisure time. – Caroline Smart




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