It was exceptionally good timing for the opening night of Singapore Repertory Theatre’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ as a spectacular Shakespeare in the Park performance on the eve of the Coronation of King Charles III in Westminster Abbey.
It was brilliant and bold in every way.
No sign of the trees which figure prominently in the Bard’s original text. Instead, the audience on the grass of Fort Canning is confronted by a complex set of chimneys, resembling Jurong Island, and named as “Athenia,” an oil company, so much more distinctly different from the forest of Athens envisioned by Shakespeare more than 500 years ago.
What started as a spectacular distraction – the tall towers of well-lit smoking stacks – soon showed up as a magical blend into the fixed skyline of city towers.
Not “a distracted fear” for the players either, who superbly portrayed the essence of the play and its performance. The play’s the thing after-all!
Bold decision-making by SRT’s Artistic Director Gaurav Kripalani – who has produced or overseen all “Shakespeare in the Park” performances over its 30-year-history – to convey some very contemporary themes for a play which is timeless in so many other ways.
Imagined forests & fairies
Brilliant – and bold too – was the staging and direction by Guy Unsworth, who draws attention in the programme notes to the fact that in Shakespeare’s day there was a growing concern for the future of the natural world. Even then, deforestation was rearing its ugly head, with trees cut from the forest to build boats, historically helping Greece to position itself as a global shipping leader.
So, while there was plenty to amuse and enthral in the ageless appeal of imagined forests and fairies, it was the lovers’ diverse affections – denied and deceived in the Bard’s cunning plots and sub-plots – which altogether produced an evening of pure and enchanting entertainment.
Besides the lighting and staging, which came close to stealing the show – and all credit to Gabriel Chan, the inspired lighting designer – we cannot ignore the stars on stage.
For performing the classic Shakesperean role of Nick Bottom, Daniel Jenkins was “a constant act,” brilliant in voice and actions – including his artful manoeuvring through the audience on the grass – in what was his 9th play in the Park for SRT.
“Ladies of the night” were prominent too. Notably Julie Wee – who trained at Victoria College of the Arts (VCA) Drama School in Melbourne – in an engaging double act as “Hippolyta” and “Titania,” in her sixth Park class act.
She was matched by two other stage stars: the very seductive Natalie Yeap as “Hermia” and her stage companion, Vanessa Lee as “Helena,” who continued to toy and tangle with the affections of friends and lovers.
As only Shakespeare can do – when he tests and twists love triangles with other life’s challenges – the SRT continues to produce outstanding performances, putting the Singapore’s Fort Canning open air stage in the same prominent theatrical category as Broadway and the West End.
“All the world’s a stage,” after all. And Singapore measures up, with its world class acting and staging.
And just to note another connection with the real Coronation Act not far from London’s West End, Guy Unsworth is credited as the producer of the now King Charles 70th birthday celebrations at Buckingham Palace in 2018 and was associate director for the late Queen’s 90th birthday at Windsor Castle in 2016.
A Royal appointment no less.
Shakespeare in the Park continues until 28 May 2023 (Tuesdays to Sundays only)
Prices: From $50 (group concessions available)
Venue: Fort Canning Park
Ticketing: SISTIC at 6438 5555 or www.srt.com.sg