Saturday, May 04, 2019

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Terra Nova at Queen’s Hall, Ards until Sunday 5 May)

It can’t be easy staging a large-scale production of a Shakespeare play with community involvement while the shadow of a huge funding cut hangs above the future viability of your organisation. But intercultural theatre company Terra Nova have managed to keep their head above water, and if this afternoon’s performance that brought new audiences to a quality theatrical experience in a local community venue with a mix of amateur and professional talent out front and back stage is typical of the run, they should be very proud of the impact they’ve made.

Children danced in among the adults, perhaps more like woodland nymphs than fairies, in A  Midsummer Night’s Dream. The love square of “I am your spaniel” Helena (Comfort Fabian), Demetrius (Stefan Dunbar), Hermia (Roisin Gallagher) and Lysander (Jamal Franklin) was lusciously physical and Andrea Montgomery’s choreography of the frantic penultimate scene a real high point of a well-blocked performance.

Director Andrew Montgomery really succeeds in bringing to life the comedy in the Shakespearian original as well as adding some modern twists. The Mechanical’s realisation as members of the Women’s Institute (complete with a prodigious knitter) adds levity, while Patrick McBrearty’s Bottom doesn’t miss a single opportunity to ham up his role and amuse the willing audience, particularly with his Elvis-like pelvic thrusts. Rosie McClelland oozed allure as a sexually predatory Titania, playing opposite David Monteith’s Oberon.

A low full moon sat on the main stage, rather neatly centring the performance. Up on a side stage sat a band who provided all the show’s music. It was all very dramatic, with larger-than-life characters, an engaging storyline and a physicality which humoured young and old.

The intentional diversity of the cast – age, gender and ethnicity – is unlike any other show that you’ll see in Northern Ireland. While the amateur performances were overshadowed by the longer scenes featuring the professionals in the cast, the time-worn Queen’s Hall venue was as welcoming as the enthusiastic front of house team. There was much rustling of sweets and wrappers – though no phones ringing – yet this was forgivable given the sense of joy of an audience less accustomed to theatre enjoying the vivid production of one of Shakespeare’s most-frequently performed works.

There’s much to like in this version of the play, though some artistic decisions were a little questionable. The choir seemed deliberately discordant with chanting that distracted than added atmosphere to a couple of scenes. The very final scene on Saturday afternoon was anticlimactic with no sense of completion until the house lights went up without any curtain call: a strange omission for a show that set out to celebrate the talents of a community. It turns out that I – along with some other people sitting near me – left at the interval, thinking that this was the promised break for the Q&A and headed to the car park! That explains some of my confusion ... and the partial review!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s sold out run finishes on Sunday 5 May. Terra Nova certainly opened up the arts to new audiences without dumbing down the content or reaching for the lowest common denominator.

Photo credit: Neil Harrison


Laurie said...

Yes, I loved this show. The bawdy humour was great fun; the relational dramas were well played; and I loved the very believable woodland folk - so full of the joy of life with energy, grace and mischief. It was such a rich feast!

Unknown said...

Thanks for coming along Alan! Did you see the second half?

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

Aha ... there was an interval and a second half. A few of us left the building through the open door and discussed the show as we walked up the street to the car park, skipping the Q&A afterwards, not realising that we hadn't reached the end of what we supposed was an abridged version!

Unknown said...

Och Alan,I'm sorry you missed the second half, but thank you very much for adjusting the review. I am sure it was made more confusing by some people who had to leave at the interval. I am very chuffed with your kind remarks about the lover's scene being the high point as I choreographed it myself. I think there is more fight sequences in Terra Nova's future as it was barrel of laughs to work on.
Hope to see you round Belfast in the theatre.
All best wishes, Andrea Montgomery

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

Reviewing mid-election count was also a tad problematic - brain probably wasn't firing on all cylinders! See you soon.