Scottish Opera: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Festival Theatre

Based on the work of William Shakespeare

Musical Direction by Dominic Hill

Conduction by Stuart Stratford

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Shakespearean Opera – it’s a nightmare of a concoction, merging two gigantic forms of artistic expression, running the risk of overwrought emotion or needless complexity. More often than not, the scroll of failures outweighs the pleasant experiences. And then there are productions like Scottish Opera’s Midsummer Night’s Dream – a damn fine balance of exceptional magnitude, clever, and touching – ingeniously capturing the bard’s work, while infusing a contemporary and accessible edge to their show. Dominic Hill’s triumphantly original marvel continues the success Hill demonstrates, being the third operatic adaptation of Shakespeare’s work.

Artistic Director of the Glasgow Citizens, the trust and understanding one places within Hill’s success with the entertainment of fae and malice is nothing new, as he successfully produces Midsummer Night’s Dream without descending the production to realms of dread or unease. In a vein of Guillermo Del Toto’s Pan’s Labyrinth, where the atrocities of war meet the escapist realms of fantasy, the parallels drawn from the onset with the children’s chorus begin to introduce us slowly into this world of chaos and dreamscape.

Confused, almost broken and derailed – the fragile sense of archaic authority emanates tremendously from Oberon & Tytania, their usual bold mannerisms subdued, communicated in performance and vocal rather than stature or imposition. Lawrence Zazzo and Catriona Hewitson’s presence, though still unyielding, is one of sinister confusion, an old guard reclaiming a command of the night as they weave their jealousy and mislead into the lives of our quartet of unbeknownst protagonists. Vocally, complex and imposing – uneasy is Zazzo with his mastery of the countertenor, yet beautiful in communication and technique.

Elgan LlΫr Thomas’s Lysander is a perfect match for Lea Shaw’s intense toned as the ever-impressive Hermia. While Jonathan McGovern’s Demetrius is an equal and pleasant match for Charlie Drummond’s Helena. Fewer protagonists, more vehicles to drive the narrative through the dreamscape, the quartet perform admirably and often aid in elevating the spectacular building rhythms of the Scottish Opera Orchestra.

And despite the aethereal nature, Hill grounds the production with the tried & perfected tradition of a play within a play, as our rag-tag crew drag the third act into a trifle more absurdity than even the magical Puck can achieve, with David Shipley’s Bottom making all but an ass of himself, to the raucous laughter from the crowds. Adept, Shipley has the capacity to carry across the venue with ease, even striking above the uniqueness of the Orchestra, complimenting the less traditional British twangs within the score.

Balancing the acutely physical nature of much of the show, with air feats and the physicality and comedic precision of Michael Gust’s Puck, the gradual return to normality within the dulcet and powerfully controlled tones of Jonathon Lamalu’s Theseus and Annie Reilly’s Hippolyta, who may provide a minor presence but graces the stage and calms the torrents of comedy and madness.

With this, we would be remised not to mention the intensity and a welcome break from operatic necessity Puck communicates with the audience, almost falling into rhymes of spoke-word, a being of both realms and the narrative progressor, for the most part, a tricky undertaking, one utterly smashed by Gust.

Not confined to the realms of mortals, Tom Piper’s stage design concocts an otherworldly presence without transforming or interfering with the stage. Mirrors, open frames, and doorways – the gateways to another world, culminating in small explosions of petal blossom enrapture the audiences’ visuals – from the lingering and floating beds to the balloons allowing users to defy gravity and to a spectral, and borderline spooky use of Rachel Canning’s puppetry design.

On leaving the denizen of fairy tales, returning to the ordinariness of the world, a bittersweet moment overlaps the audiences as the house lights ignite again. The majesty of the show over, its presence felt, and there erupts a sneaking hope that in returning to the cold streets of the city – that there may be something otherworldly lurking within the night sky. Scottish Opera’s Midsummer Night’s Dream has two more stagings in Edinburgh before it falls back into the shadows, the glimmers of riveting design and the fading tones of exceptional opera not to be missed.

Scottish Opera: A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at The Festival Theatre until March 5th Tickets for which can be obtained here.

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