From the moment you walk into the theatre to see Opera Australia’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, your senses are ensnared by the sight of the incredible set, the sound of birds chirping in the trees and the smell of incense wafting through the air.
Under the unique artistic direction of Baz Lurhmann, you are immediately transported to a magical Indian forest under the British Raj in the 1920s, even before the music has begun. And what music! Britten may not be the sort of thing you sit and listen to at home, but his music, under the baton of Paul Kildea with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, captures the essence of Shakespeare’s story. Every time I found a discernable melody, poof! It was gone as soon as I noticed it — quite like the elusive spirits controlling what unfolds in the forest. The abundance of the harp gave the music a truly ethereal quality, and Oberon (the King of the Fairies) was an unearthly counter-tenor. It’s also lovely to note that Shakespeare’s original text has been used for the libretto, and in English too.
With costume design by Catherine Martin, the scene was a lavish wash of vibrant colour, which matched the equally spectacular set. Picture a very large, three tier rotunda, draped in vines and fairy lights. The top tier has a platform and a walkway heading offstage to the unknown, the middle layer seats the entire orchestra and the bottom layer is a magical, fairy grotto.
I would have been perfectly happy just to sit and watch the set (designed by Bill Marron) and lighting (designed by Nigel Levings), for the entire 3.5 hour show. Though, of course, I’m very happy there was a storyline too. For those unfamiliar with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this particular story has many of the classic Shakespearean elements: unrequited love, mistaken identity, a play within a play, and a donkey.
The entire cast was fantastic, but a special mention must go to Tobias Cole for his joyous portrayal of Oberon and his unapologetic vindictiveness, and was wonderfully complemented Lorina Gore’s Tytania, Queen of the Fairies, Conal Coad reprising the role of Bottom, and to Tyler Copin, who was the perfect Puck: mischievous, childish and powerful. The children’s chorus, who played solemn spirits, slipping among the unfortunate mortals lost in the forest, were utterly delightful. In fact, the whole production was enchanting. To summise the unique mash-up of styles, it was like Avatar and Moulin Rouge going on a date in India, but not being able to decide between Shakespeare, Bollywood, or the Opera.