The Fairy Queen – Samuel Beckett Theatre, Dublin
Composer: Henry Purcell
Director: Conor Hanratty
Conductor: David Adams
The Royal Irish Academy of Music, in collaboration with Design for Stage and Screen at IADT, Dun Laoghaire, opened their interpretation of Henry Purcell’s semi-opera The Fairy Queen to a full house. The Fairy Queen sets out to recreate Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so viewers can expect star crossed lovers, magic, humour and moments of sincerity and sadness.
At first the characters enter the stage at odds with one another. Oberon and Titania are fighting, bringing discord to fairy world, Hermia and Lysander have run away from Athens so that they can be together but their love is interrupted by the arrival of Helena and Demetrius. In the middle of all this is a rather drunk and lost Bottom, looking for his friends so they can begin rehearsing a play. In the magic of the forest will all right itself?
The stage is large and dark. Four large steps lead up to the centre. Gold lighting hangs in beaded chains from the ceiling, separating the orchestra from the main action. The orchestra are slightly behind the stage and a level lower, but still visible to the audience. They do not seem to miss a beat and are close to flawless, making it a pleasure to listen to. Either side of the stage are two raised sections that are used throughout, for example in denoting who are young lovers are pairing with. At times the actors are able to make use of the fire escape and main seating area for performance purposes. This shows an excellent ability to adapt to a performance space. In future productions additional lighting and props might be used for further effect. Further there is scope to play up the comedy elements. There are humorous interludes however these can be maximised for greater effect. Bottom, Puck, played by Philip Keegan, and Caper, played by Hannah O’Brien have perhaps the funniest moments with O’Brien managing to make the audience chuckle with a scene involving just a dustpan and brush.
Particular focus was given to the costumes, to the extent that the performers appeared to be wearing matching nail varnish. The fairies wear soft pastel colours, the king and queen however wear much brighter blues, silvers and golds. Additionally headdresses are used throughout to denote status and narrative movement. For example Titania begins The Fairy Queen wearing a crown of ice, by the end summer has come and warmer colours, brighter lights and a gold headdress take centre stage. Glitter and make up are expertly used to add to otherworldly, ethereal sense that the actors are from another, less mortal world.
Props are used sparingly but successfully. Gold lighting, smoke, petals, paper fans and purple lamps help to give atmosphere and make use of the large stage. Further additional props are used during the final scene to reflect the emotional changes that are occurring on stage.
Bass-Baritone Robert McAllister gave a standout performance as Bottom. Bottom usually gets the best plot lines, from falling in love with the queen of the fairies, to growing ass’s ears to waking up thinking that it is all a dream, which gives the actor plenty of room to show their ability. However McAllister truly gives a stellar performance; his powerful voice reaching across the theatre. Importantly all of the singers project their voices well and remarkably do not use (and do not need to use) microphones. Soprano Florence Khei Kuan Chong, who played the fairy Moth, gave a sterling performance, and fellow soprano Clodagh Kinsella, who played Titania also excelled. Both Kuan Chong and Kinsella were given a chance to shine in the second half.
This is a distinguished performance of Purcell’s semi-opera that will appeal to opera and music lovers, as well as those who are new to the genre. The plot is relatively easy to follow and the audience can be carried away by the music and fun and games happening on stage. This is a bright start to innovative theatre this year.
Runs until 14 January 2017 | Image: Mark Stedman