The course of true love never did run smooth

Shakespeare at Mona Vale has become something of a summer tradition, like the guy who yells out ‘saucy’ at the buskers or a trip out to Orana park. Top Dog theatre produced another impressive interpretation of the bard’s work this year in the form of Midsummer Night’s Dream, a play about the adventures of four young Athenian lovers and a group of amateur actors, not to mention a few fairies in a moonlit forest.

I went to the Friday session on February 19, which kicked off at 6pm, drawing a massive crowd. In fact, it was wall-to-wall people taking up every inch of grass along the bank in front of the ‘stage’. Actually, the natural amphitheatre is well suited to Shakespeare plays and provides almost everyone with a good view of the action (except for whoever gets stuck behind the tree!). I just scraped in two minutes before the play started, partly because I wasn’t sure of the start time and partly because I had to park in Ashburton. Actually it was Kilmarnock street but I’ve never seen it so busy. One person so desperate for a close park had fully wedged their small car in between two others; I would have paid to see them get it out. A fantastically sunny day (yay it came back) and that the previous evening was decidedly soggy meant I shouldn’t have been surprised by the huge turnout of art-appreciating theatre-goers.

Fortunately, Crystal had arrived nice and early and saved a spot for me. They waved me through for free so they must have known I was a critic, and hoped to woo me or they just saw me and thought this guy needs more culture and we’ll happily sponsor him. Got in, lightly stepped on toes, blankets and other people’s sandwiches to get to our spot. The show started but I was probably more focused on making myself some dinner, but that was a mistake. For a non-Shakespeare person like me, I really needed to immerse myself in the play and get the hang of 16th century English, rhyming couplets and the street slang of the day. So for me the first 20 minutes were hard going, too many characters, too many actors speaking too many words I either couldn’t hear or couldn’t understand. So I took solace in the chicken sandwich Crystal had made and a Monteith’s beer.

As the play progressed the haze started to clear. Characters made more sense and seemed to have more direction and purpose in the play. In fact, I enjoyed the second half a whole lot more, and while I don’t want to credit that to 2 glasses of wine, I think that really helped me to get in the spirit of the occasion. The crowd also seemed to warm up as the evening got colder, with more polite clapping and spontaneous laughter (shocking behaviour indeed for conservative supporters of the Christchurch arts).

A few highlights for me (apart from the great company and fine dining) was Puck, the comedic fairy who loved to meddle and do one-arm cartwheels, Bottoms who turned into an ass (that’s was the characters name in case you were thinking I had muddled my words there), the shy lion, the wall and the flower-bashing that went on as Lysander and Demetrius fight girl-style over Helena.

There seemed to be a lot of new actors in the cast this year, including a cute little Chihuahua who did the best dog impression I’ve ever seen. It was actually really well behaved considering how much shouting and match-making was going on.

It ended on a high note as the amateurs got to do their play for the 3 newly-wedded couples, and you had to wonder if Will had Romeo and Juliet on the brain when he penned the droll they performed, but from an obvious comedic angle.

Puck wrapped everything up with his final words to the audience:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.

It seemed appropriate to me, with all the fairies and man-donkeys I’d seen that it really did make much more sense as a dream. A bizarre turn of events that really could only happen in a dream. However, I’ve never had a dream so well acted as it was that night. Top work Top Dog and thank you to my wife for ‘dragging’ me along to these sorts of events – it can’t be easy!

The course of true love never did run smooth