You may know it as A Midsummer Night's Dream. but to actors, it is always The Dream. Bell Shakespeare's new production of the William Shakespeare comedy is also called The Dream and it is not just the title that is shorter. Directed by Bell Shakespeare co-artistic director Peter Evans, this is a streamlined 90-minute production.
It originated as a school production that was so successful that it has been transferred to the main stage and is having its premiere in Canberra on Saturday night with a cast of eight actors, most playing multiple roles.
One strand of the play concerns multiple pairs of lovers in Athens, and what happens when they enter the forest and the world of the fairies.
Gareth Reeves and Lucy Honigman play one pair of lovers, Lysander and Hermia, respectively, who want to elope.
Reeves, 36, is a New Zealand-born actor who came to Australia several years ago and was last in Canberra for Bell Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. He said Hermia's father gave her three choices: marry his preferred suitor Demetrius (played by Johnny Carr), enter a nunnery, or die. They are pursued into the forest by Demetrius. He, in turn, is followed by Helena (Nikki Shiels), who loves him.
The humans are caught up in a dispute between the king and queen of the fairies, Oberon (Ray Chong Nee) and Titania (Janine Watson), when Oberon's servant Puck (Julie Forsyth), among other mischief, makes use of a potion that makes someone fall in love with the first living thing they see when it is applied to their eyes.
"Chaos and hilarity ensues," Reeves said.
The play also celebrates theatre with a subplot involving the Mechanicals, a group of travelling actors who are preparing to perform a play at the marriage of Theseus (Chong Nee) and Hippolyta (Watson).
"It's very funny, beautiful and mysterious, and very, very funny," said Honigman, 25, who is in her first Bell Shakespeare production. "Shakespeare's observations and his wit are still relevant and hilarious."
Both Reeves and Honigman said there was more to the play than just comedy.
"It's about deciding what your reality is – we all make our own," Reeves said. "Human beings tell stories to make sense of the world. The characters are trying to make sense of a world that's being turned upside down around them."
For Honigman, the play is about "interconnectedness". "Everything you do had a consequence and a ripple effect," she said.
When the human characters enter the world of the fairies, each affects the other in sometimes unexpected ways.
The Dream is on at the Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre, until September 13. Bookings: canberraticketing.com.au or 6275 2700.
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