Arènes de Montmartre, Paris 18eme
26 to 28 September 2018 & Paris Fringe 14 October 2018
Director: Taylor Scott
Producer: Tapis Théâtre
Dreams and nightmares are recurring motifs in Shakespeare’s work. He uses them as a device not only to add richness and colour to his narrative palette but, more importantly, to enhance its dramatic effect.
Macbeth, Richard III, The Tempest, The Winter’s Tale, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, Henry VI, Julius Caesar, Hamlet are just a few examples of plays in which dream sequences have heralded significant events and actions, evoking the classical notion of the dream as a medium for supernatural influence or premonition.
Through its very title, A Midsummer Night’s Dream forewarns audiences that what lies ahead bears little resemblance to reality and will come encased in an alternative universe where bizarre, unexplained events can – and do – happen. In the play’s illusory, bucolic idyll, faeries play naughty tricks on one another as well as on the unfortunate humans who cross their path. A queen falls in love with a donkey, a group of clumsy artisans win hearts with their madcap play-within-a-play, star-crossed lovers get their partners terribly mixed up and an airy spirit strives to please a demanding master. It all adds up to a delightful pageant of fun and nonsense.
For its 2018 Paris Summer Shakespeare production, Tapis Théâtre, an enterprising young English language company based in the city, has assembled all these elements into a sparky, agit-prop style production smack bang in the romantic heart of Montmartre
Under Taylor Scott’s imaginative direction, the setting is the Paris of la Belle Epoque. The company has been gifted the perfect summer venue in the tree-lined stone round of the Arènes de Montmartre, just below the basilica of Sacré Coeur, where the vibrancy, the absinthe-imbued decadence and joie-de vivre of that heady era find an authentic resonance.
On a shoestring budget, Scott has assembled an attractive young international cast, who, after a condensed rehearsal schedule, have gelled into an admirably cohesive ensemble.
The aesthetics of the venue allow for a minimal set comprising red velvet drape, oriental rug and strings of twinkling fairy lights, which brighten as the evening draws in. Costumes have been begged, borrowed and blagged from charity shops, fabric markets, friends and families and with creative dashes of brightly coloured satin and sequins, they vividly evoke the flamboyant look of the time.
There is, of necessity, some doubling of roles and gender swopping within the casting plan. Some decisions work better than others. Audrey Mikondo is an elegant, softly spoken Oberon, urging Ysamalis Perez-Saada’s scheming Puck into all kinds of misguided mischief.
Lucien Bonnet is effortlessly impressive as both Theseus and Titania the hapless faerie queen, who falls passionately for a long-eared ass, deliberately placed by Puck in her waking gaze. The parallel role of the Amazon ruler Hippolyta offers Mikondo somewhat limited dramatic scope, however, while Perez-Saada is hesitant in the lesser role of Egeus and challenged by the poetic rhythms of the Shakespearean verse.
The dual pairing of the lovers works effectively and their chaotic mistaken identity crises are executed with slick humour and physicality. After getting off to a troublesome start, Joshua Stretton’s lanky, laid-back Demetrius and Emily Guernsey’s willowy, despairing Helena end up convincingly besotted with each other. Meanwhile, Patrick Bayele’s easily swayed Lysander has much ground to make up in order to deserve the undying devotion of Charlotte Pleasants’s feisty, determined Hermia. Feminism has yet far to go in these unequal romantic partnerships.
Scott breaks the mould in casting Irish actress Hannah Coyle in the traditionally male role of Bottom. Diminutive in stature but large in stage presence, Coyle’s androgynous, know-it-all little windbag has a hand in every story and, in the ludicrous tragi-comedy of Pyramus and Thisbe, leads a merry troupe of untrained but earnest mechanicals through a melodramatic onslaught which brings the house down.
In spite of a few technical glitches, inevitable in this unconventional outdoor venue, the focus and energy of cast and production team make for an evening of irresistible revelry and rough magic. The pretty visual spectacle, Athéna Clément’s live accordion music and the clear storytelling are enjoyed as much by the cosmopolitan crowds of paying customers as by the groups of tourists, curiously peering down from the steep, leafy stairways of this bewitching Parisian enclave and adding their own comments and sound effects. Shakespeare would have loved it.
Cast: Audrey Mikondo, Lucien Bonnet, Ysamalis Perez-Saada, Charlotte Pleasants, Emily Guernsey, Joshua Stretton, Patrick Bayele, Hannah Coyle, Rebecca Mason, Thomas Gilroy, Alexia Alexander, Isotta Tomassini, Cassia Jurčević