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If you still think Shakespeare is boring and highbrow, then you haven't seen Oberon - a zany, zealous zephyr of a production by Brisbane's HeartBeast Theatre. Oberon is a jigger of comedy, a splash of music, a dollop of Shakespeare, and a twist of pantomime, shaken vigourously to create a Christmas celebratory cocktail for the whole family.
HeartBeast's Oberon is presented in the lovely venue of Fortitude Valley's Trinity Hall, the former Sunday School built in 1892. The production is Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" across 3 time zones: the Elizabethan period (C.1563), 1863, and 1963, where the residents of Oberon are rehearsing a production of "Pyramus and Thisbe". While this may sound complicated, it's not really difficult to follow, although some familiarity with Shakespeare's story and text is helpful. Links between the eras and stories are provided by Filo, the Master of Revels.
I was looking forward to reviewing this production and I was not disappointed because Oberon is excellent in all areas - story, production, sets, costumes and cast. The original idea for the play belongs to Director/Scenographer, Michael Beh and was realised with the assistance of Director/Vocal Coach Adrienne Costello. And Beh and Costello have worked some "rough magic" of their own with this gem.
It's not often that you can say that there isn't a weak link among the players but this is happily true for Oberon. The 1863 lovers who find themselves the unwitting playthings of the King and Queen of the Faeries evoke the comedic and tragic elements very well. The Faeries themselves are saucy and playful, their king and queen suitably imperious. The hilarious 1963 players are a treat, especially my favourite - Jacqueline Kerr as Robin Starveling, a sixties version of Kath and Kim's Kim Craig. But the night truly belongs to two players. Emily Pollard is delightful as the impish and mischievous Puck, while Sherri Smith (surely the cast's busiest player) is playful, haunting and critical in turn as Filo, the Irish Maid and the Mayor of Oberon. In a cast of stellar performances these two manage to steal the show.
The sets (by the obviously multi-talented Jacqueline Kerr) and Lighting (by Jason Harding and Rory Fitzpatrick) are moody and colourful, establishing the tone throughout, as well as the physical aspects. Special mention must be made of the sumptuous costumes by Jan Mandrusiak. From the colourfully clad faery-crossed lovers to the marvellously coiffed and styled Sixties troupe, and from the resplendant faeries, to the Master of Revels, the costumes all hit the right notes.
The obvious difficulties in staging a complex story with such a large cast are largely overcome but some of the action which happens at the front edge of the stage would be hard for people in the back rows to see well. Similarly, Nick Bottom's dialogue is muffled and a bit unclear once he acquires the head of an ass.
Performance Information Venue: Trinity Hall, Church St, Fortitude Valley Dates: Friday 2 December to Saturday 17 December. Please note performances are Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Times: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays 7.30 pm, Sundays 5pm, plus a bonus matinee performance on Saturday 10 December at 2pm. Tickets: $23 Adults and $15 Concession are available through BrizTix here. Groups: Group Bookings for twenty or more are available by emailing email@example.com
This is a professional, highly enjoyable production and one gets a sense that the cast and crew are enjoying it as much as the audience. I have three words of advice. Don't miss it. It's only on until 17 December.