A Midsummer Night’s Dream

William Shakespeare
Lyric Theatre, Belfast
Lyric Theatre, Belfast

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Full company of Lyric Theatre, Belfast's A Midsummer's Night Dream Credit: Ciarán Bagnall
ArtsEkta dancers and musicians in A Midsummer's Night Dream Credit: Ciarán Bagnall
Leah Minto's Titania squares up to Sean Kearns's Oberon Credit: Ciarán Bagnall
Patrick McBrearty as Puck Credit: Ciarán Bagnall
Meghan Tyler as Helena Credit: Ciarán Bagnall
Performers of Rogue Encounters as the Fairies Credit: Ciarán Bagnall

Try as it did, July’s unseasonably inclement weather failed to rain on the parade of an al fresco A Midsummer Night’s Dream that marked the Lyric Theatre, Belfast’s first foray into outdoor performance.

Incorporating the Lyric’s tree-framed, amphitheatre-shaped surroundings and spilling out onto the road (closed off to traffic for the occasion) separating the venue from the River Lagan, Stuart Marshall’s set design matched Jimmy Fay’s staging for audacity and imagination.

Presented as part of Belfast City Council’s Belfast 2024 programme intent on placing people and place within wider artistic endeavours (and vice versa), Fay has fashioned a multicultural spectacle from Shakespeare’s magically-inclined comedy of manners laced with an intoxicating kaleidoscope of colours, sounds and sensations.

It’s a remarkable act of creative legerdemain to present a main-house staple as street theatre and community carnival, a sleight-of-hand that Shakespeare’s blending of the real and the fantastic readily lends itself to. Abetted by Mary Tumelty’s lighting deftly accommodating the fading of overcast daylight into magical twilit dusk, Marshall’s transformation of the outdoor space seamlessly folds theatrical artifice into real-world actuality.

Drifting clouds of aromatic incense perfume a space filled with live music performed by Beyond Skin’s 10-strong ensemble of refugees and asylum seekers from India, Syria, Iran, Ukraine and elsewhere that inks in exotic atmospheres of its own.

Add in contributions from local community, welfare and youth groups ArtsEkta, the Chinese Welfare Association, Show Some Love and 5th Element, and the result is a rich and rewarding spectacle.

Setting the tone, Sean Kearns’s Oberon makes his appearance borne aloft a ceremonial dragon in a procession marrying Asian and Chinese influences, while the neon-costumed Patrick McBrearty, doubling as Philostrate and Puck, serves as vaudevillian MC and mischievous interlocutor with winning front-cloth energy.

Foil and filip to Kearns’s mirroring of Oberon and Theseus, Leah Minto brings a no-nonsense approach to Hippolyta and Titania, matched by the illuminating contemporary attitudes of Meghan Tyler and Jessica Reynolds’s Helena and Hermia. Cillian Lenaghan and Ash Rizi’s would-be lovers Lysander and Demetrius acquit themselves with a testosterone-fuelled passion that occasionally gets the better of them.

A tendency to excitability (compensating perhaps for driving rain) by the rude mechanicals, led by Jo Donnelly’s deliciously long-suffering Quince, didn’t seem to dampen the audience’s appreciative response to their clownish endeavours. Similarly, the fairies drawn from Rogue Encounters’ committed mixed-ability players vividly led by Caroline Curran.

Kearns’s authority, Tyler’s intelligence and clarity, and McBrearty’s fireworks individuality aside, all struggled in various moments with the particular rhythms and accents of verse-speaking, a consequence of Shakespeare being a relative rarity on Northern Irish stages. Even so, character, storytelling and meaning were vivaciously realised, the weather and drone of incoming aeroplanes on the flight path above the Lyric doing little to dilute the sheer ambition of Fay’s staging in a festive, fun and fantasy-filled christening of a new and novel performance space.

Reviewer: Michael Quinn

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