The Dream. By William Shakespeare. Directed by Peter Evans. Bell Shakespeare. The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre, August 28-September 13. Bookings: 6275 2700.
No, it's not some newly discovered work by Shakespeare. The Dream is A Midsummer Night's Dream, retitled by Bell Shakespeare co-artistic director Peter Evans to match his streamlined production: eight actors, most doubling or tripling roles, and edited and paced to run 100 minutes. Tops.
"It's fast-paced, we're rocketing through it - one act straight through," Evans says.
"There are a few trims here and there."
But he's stayed true to the text, the story remains the same and he hopes the production will point up "the genius of the storytelling".
As for the title, "We all call it The Dream when we do the play anyway."
The Dream takes place in three worlds, Evans says - but there's plenty of overlap.
There's the mythical Athens - where the Duke, Theseus, rules, and is about to marry Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Hermia loves Lysander but her father Egeus wants her to marry Demetrius, who is loved by Helena.
Then there's an enchanted forest outside the city walls: Oberon, king of the fairies, wants to embarrass his estranged wife Titania and enlists the sprite Robin "Puck" Goodfellow to make a concoction that, when applied to the eyelids of a sleeping person, makes them fall in love with the first living thing they see. But when Oberion orders Puck to apply it to one of the mortals, it ends up on the wrong person's eyelids, and havoc ensues.
The third element is, Evans points out, "a celebration of theatre" - found frequently in Shakespeare's plays - involving a group of amateur actors known as The Mechanicals, who come into the same mystical woods to rehearse a play called Pyramus and Thisbe to perform at the wedding.
The idea for the streamlined Dream came from an educational production which Evans adapted for eight cast members and which, he says, worked well. And, as noted in this production, almost all the actors are playing multiple roles, not just the ones with smaller parts.
"That's in the spirit of the play."
So, for example, Ray Chong Nee plays two rulers, Theseus and Oberon, as well as the mechanical Flute, who plays Thisbe in the play-within-the-play. Julie Forsyth as Puck is the only performer to stick with one character. But Evans is confident the actors will always keep it clear who's who.
"It's such a lot of fun."
But there's more to the play than comedy, Evans says. He says The Dream has a weirdness and magic about it that are really compelling.
"I want to remind people how funny this play is and how dark it is; Shakespeare's observation on the fickleness of love and the irrationality of love is really dark."