A Midsummer Nights Dream – Free will v’s the fates in Rockdale. (Theatre Review)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The Guild Theatre
May 18 – June 9, You can grab your tickets here.
Images – Craig O’Regan
It is via certain mythologies that tragic drama and its psychoanalytical effects become central to Shakespeare. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, first printed in 1600, arrived at the birth of a new century and three years after the publishing of Romeo and Juliet. The question of fate v’s free will that so plagues all Shakespeare’s works had moved from the tragedy of lost love to the comedy of ill-fated love shrouded in questions of destiny and self-control. If Shakespeare had felt that fate controlled all love (as it did in Romeo and Juliet) he would lose recourse to mythologies as a demonstration of universal desires, and one that endorses the legitimization of poetry itself. The characters of A Midsummer Nights Dream do not only live out their own fate, but they are a symbol of the craziness of our love lives also. This story reflects a fundamental human phenomenon, even if it takes art to offer a means of interpretation. Fate is never entirely separable from questions of love, knowledge and power (and hate, ignorance and powerlessness). It is love, knowledge and power that keep notions of luck at bay. As humans are toyed with and twisted by Oberon and Puck they are forced into interpretation we, the audience, know have little to do with their predicament. Helen’s accusations of cruel jokes are misplaced – but therein lies the farce. If determinism was a psychoanalytic tragedy for Romeo and Juliet and Pyramus and Thisbe it has become a lighthearted joke for Hermie and Lysander and Demetrius and Helena.
Inside all this comes the ultimate question for Shakespeare: to what extent can we free ourselves form the forces that determine us? A Midsummer Nights Dream offers us a whimsical alternative to the problems of fate as an ultimate power over which we cannot exercise control. Through whimsy, Shakespeare offers an alternative to the daemonic powers that ancient people attributed to the soul. Scholar of Greek Mythology Walter Burkert describes this daimon as “occult power, a force that drives man forward where no agent can be named … the veiled countenance of divine activity … something like fate, but without any person who plans and ordains being visible” (in Winter, 1999, P313) When Shakespeare offers us Oberon, Puck and Titania he does so with comedy, possibly conscious of the ominous premise he has called forth. It is not determinism we are forced to question, but to whom or what to we apportion these roles? Freud would argue those who claim ill fate are often fulfilling lives arranged by themselves and determined by early infantile influences. We escape from one version of fate into another: a fate of our own making. Inside this configuration, chance can play a role. For Freud, fate and chance are decisive together. For Shakespeare, the love-in-idleness flower produces only one result, and all who are connected to it obey its power. However, a chance attraction of the pity of Oberon releases Lysander and Demetrius from their fate and sets them and their lovers on a course for ‘true’ love again. Freud would argue, that ‘true’ love is simply their own deterministic forces at work. Just as Romeo is affected by the chance of killing Tybalt and the failure to get the message about Juliet’s faked death, so the forces are reversed in this comedy to work in the lovers’ interest.
The Guild Theatre’s production of A Midsummer Nights Dream is a lush and delightful production that successfully transports the audience into the world of Shakespeare. The mayhem inherent in the play evokes a connective beauty that engulfs the audience. Under Susan Stapleton’s fine direction, the sinister wielding of human will to fulfill desires of which the individual remains ignorant become a playful and light conjuring of the play, leaning more toward the dream (inferred by Puck in her last speech) and away from the eerie darkness that can envelop the play. Superb costume design by Leone Sharp, exquisite lighting design by Leona Wilson and an understated yet evincing set by Jim Searle and David Pointon elevate the production into a modern sophisticated affair worthy of the rich history of The Guild Theatre. I have always claimed that community theatre regularly rivals its more illustrious cousins of main and independent stages, and this production is one of those that makes good on my boast.
Susan Stapleton equally calls forth fine performances from her cast. Stand outs are Rosemary Ghazi as Puck and Donna Randall as Hippolyta who each bring an added depth to their characters that transports the production. Haki Pepo Olu Crisden is a commanding Theseus and a warm inviting Oberon, making a striking and interesting physical difference with each role. Russell Godwin is a very funny Nick Bottom, perfectly pitched against Catherine Waters straight man like Peter Quince. Kathy Goddard does a great job as Robin Starveling carrying around her puppet dog that melts our hearts. The four lovers Kim Jones (Hermia) Dimitri Armatas (Lysander) Rachel Howard (Helena) and Douglas Spafford (Demetrius) are equally playful and manage to convey their crazy love affairs and tangles with clarity and wit such that we never lose our way. To this productions credit, the ‘rude mechanicals’ play remains light and vivacious, despite comply posited problem of it occurring as an afterthought in the play. Credit to Susan Stapleton for keeping the continuity and joy high throughout this segment of A Midsummer Nights Dream, as it is tricky to get right.
This production from The Guild Theatre is a truly beautiful piece of theatre pleasure from the suburbs of Sydney and another excellent reason to seek out local theatre. A Midsummer Nights Dream is a lovely distraction from the perils of our winter cold and a beautiful way to enjoy your evening. Go early and eat in one of the local cafes and enjoy Rockdale. Its well worth it.