Magic and mayhem collide in Bell Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream | HerCanberra

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Magic and mayhem collide in Bell Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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This winter, magic awaits. But it isn’t a fluffy fairy tale.

Instead, this story is brimming with mirth and mayhem, whimsy and wickedness – and it’s probably what Shakespeare would have wanted.

Coming to the Canberra Theatre Centre this June, Bell Shakespeare’s fantastical adaption of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is bringing the beloved romantic comedy by William Shakespeare to the Playhouse stage, reimagined and refreshed.

But just a warning: the fairies in this play aren’t pretty, winged sprites. Instead, this fast-paced production has breathed fresh life into a story that’s captured the hearts of so many – including Canberra-born actor Isabel Burton.

Taking to the stage as the love-sick Helena, Isabel says that the 120-minute adaptation of the classic comedy is one of her favourite versions as it weaves together the intersecting stories of four young lovers, a group of bumbling tradies (who are also aspiring actors), and a mischievous group of fairies, in an explosion of comedic chaos.

“I love that there are fairies so there’s an element of magic and the supernatural but then there are also the Mechanicals of Athens in there putting on a play. The comedy that comes with them is just top tier in my opinion,” she says.

“I was very excited [to step into the role of Helena]. I think she’s a fabulous character.”

Full of the misadventures of the Mechanicals, and the romantic entanglements of Hermia, Lysander, Helena, and Demetrius, what makes Bell Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream different from the rest, is in this version the magical subplot of fairy king and queen Oberon and Titania isn’t as sweet and sparkly as you would expect.

Because unlike the usual Disney-move portrayal of fairies, these magical creatures are sinister, they’re wicked, and – thanks to the talented costume department – they look like shadows.

“The fairies feel a little bit darker than how you would typically imagine fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream to be,” says Isabel. “In Shakespeare’s time, the fae would have been very mischievous and kind of scary creatures because their intentions weren’t good all the time. We’ve stayed true to that tone.”

“These are creatures that move in darkness and for the most part, the action [in the play] happens through the night which is when these fairies are alive and working their magic.”

And with a tiny cast bringing it all to life, that’s not the only magic happening on the stage.

Performing alongside the talented and acclaimed British-Australian actor Richard Pyros (Oberon) who you might recognise from the hit TV series The Great, Māori actor Matu Ngaropo (Bottom) who was recently making waves in the Australian version of the Broadway sensation Hamilton, Ahunim Abebe (Hermia), Mike Howlett (Demetrius), Ella Prince (Puck), Imogen Sage (Titania/Hippolyta/Quince) and Laurence Young (Lysander), Isabel is one of eight actors playing multiple roles. So, it’s no surprise that between the small cast and chaotic storyline, the play is an absolute whirlwind.

“I play Helena, but I also play Robin Starveling, who is one of the Mechanicals – she’s a lot of fun. And then in the play within the play at the end [Pyramus and Thisbe], Starveling goes onto the play as Moonshine. There’s a bit of play-ception there. And then I also play a fairy!” says Isabel.

“We’ve built up all the different worlds in this play quite distinctly – there’s the fairy world, the Athens court/lovers world, and then the Mechanicals world. That helps, that we have those distinctions between those worlds.”

Set at a galloping pace as each of the three interwoven storylines plays out and all of the characters collide, the hilarity, chaos, and confusion explode into a vibrant show that is a testament to the light and dark that’s found in Shakespeare’s work.

And while there are some sinister elements, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is perfect for everyone – no matter if you can rival a Bell Shakespeare Player in your ability to quote the bard or if you’re a novice who thinks Bottom is just a body part (you’ll be in for a big surprise).

“We get a lot of audiences who have never seen or read Shakespeare before,” says Isabel.

“Everyone will find something different to enjoy about the show – the kids usually like the really silly, physical comedy, and the adults may laugh at the fairy king and queen who bring some slight adult nods of humour to the play. It’s really accessible age-wise.”

Starting as a Player in 2022 to bring Shakespeare to life in schools and communities across Australia, it was in 2023 that Isabel was made a cast member for Bell Shakespeare’s adaptations of Macbeth and Twelfth Night. But she says that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is probably her favourite Shakespeare play and coming home to Canberra to perform it feels like a full circle moment.

“The Canberra Theatre Centre is beautiful, and I love the Playhouse. The first time I saw a Bell Shakespeare production was in that theatre,” says Isabel.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to play in there a couple of times and bringing my favourite Shakespeare play to the stage will be a lot of fun.”

Funny, dark, and full of love, it sounds like a play the whole family can enjoy. After all, you’re never too young to learn that the course of true love never did run smooth…


What: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
When: Friday 7 until Saturday 15 June
Canberra Theatre Centre
Tickets + more information:

Photography: Brett Boardman.

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