Night of fantasy and comedy

Huen Tin Yeung puts on a lithe and limber performance as the mischievous sprite Puck.
Huen Tin Yeung puts on a lithe and limber performance as the mischievous sprite Puck.PHOTO: COURTESY OF ESPLANADE - THEATRES ON THE BAY

Hong Kong cast of A Midsummer Night's Dream takes the audience on a colourful adventure topped with laudable acting and beautiful costumes

REVIEW / THEATRE

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM

Dionysus Contemporary Theatre/ Huayi 2017

Esplanade Theatre

Last Saturday

Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is a play that tackles some rather weighty themes, including the nature of reality and illusion, and the arbitrariness of attraction.

But it does so with a light touch and a cloak of fantasy and comedy. However one chooses to interpret the play, it is one trippy adventure.

Director Olivia Yan of Hong Kong's Dionysus Contemporary Theatre taps into that playful, surreal essence for this adaptation.

Story-wise, she sticks quite closely to the Bard's version.

The Fairy King Oberon (Anthony Wong) and Queen Titania (Candice Yu) are squabbling over who should have a young boy.

In a fit of pique, he casts a spell on her that leads her to fall head over heels for the first creature she sees on waking up.

That turns out to be Bottom (Franky Mcnugget), an actor who has been stuck with the head of a donkey.

The mischievous sprite Puck (Huen Tin Yeung) uses the same potion to meddle in the affairs of four young lovers: Lysander (Alex Lam) and Hermia (Kate Yeung), who long to be together against her father's wishes; and Demetrius (Angus Chan), who wants to marry Hermia; and Helena (Rosa Maria Velasco), who is besotted with Demetrius.

The use of Cantonese dialogue, while generally retaining the English names, immediately gives the production an exotic feel.

The lines switch between formal and colloquial Cantonese, so it feels both comfortingly familiar and detached at different times.

In one memorable scene, Helena and Hermia descend into a catfight in which they hurl insults about each other's bust size and it plays out like an exaggerated Hong Kong comedy film.

The stage is kept uncluttered, with a few pieces of props, such as a large rock and a ramp, to delineate the space. It means the costumes, lighting and sound are key to transporting one to a realm of magic and fantasy.

Costume designer Tsang Man Tung must have had a field day coming up with the diverse looks, from neon-coloured-circus-acrobat Puck to the skivvies the four lovers run about in to the regally ostentatious raiments of Oberon and Titania.

Wong is feathered and cocky as the Fairy King while Yu has an imperious presence as the Queen and also as Hippolyta, who is marrying Duke Theseus (also played by Wong) in yet another strand of the tale.

Kudos to Huen for a lithe and limber performance and to Mcnugget for a fearless one, wearing a pair of underpants with an obscenely large bulge as the transformed Bottom.

But it is Velasco who leaves the deepest impression as she makes one really feel the desperation of Helena's situation.

Her Helena is funny and sympathetic instead of merely being an object of ridicule or pity.

In a story filled with fairies, magic and outsized drama, she keeps things real.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 06, 2017, with the headline 'Night of fantasy and comedy'. Print Edition | Subscribe