Theatre review: Cantonese dialogue makes Midsummer Night's Dream even more exotic

Actors Anthony Wong and Candice Yu as King Oberon and Queen Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Actors Anthony Wong and Candice Yu as King Oberon and Queen Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.PHOTO: BENNY LUEY

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM

Dionysus Contemporary Theatre/Huayi 2017

Esplanade Theatre/Saturday (Feb 4)

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 it, it is one trippy adventure.

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

Story-wise, she stuck 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 with 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; 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 gave the production an exotic feel. The lines switched between formal and colloquial Cantonese, so it felt comfortingly familiar and detached at different times.

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

The stage was kept uncluttered with a few pieces such as a large rock and a ramp to delineate the space. It meant that the costumes, lighting and sound were key in 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 was feathered and cocky as the Fairy King while Yu had an imperious presence as the Queen and also as Hippolyta, who is marrying Duke Theseus (also 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 was Velasco who left the deepest impression as she made one really feel the desperation of Helena's situation. Her Helena was funny and sympathetic instead of merely being an object of ridicule or pity.

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

bchan@sph.com.sg