A Midsummer Night’s Dream in New Orleans – Arts Theatre

midart6jpg-c53dcdcb2aa88c92faf82b27de8e99b3Another summer and another production of “the Dream” and each year someone tries to do it in a different way and with varying degrees of success. So when I heard that theatre company Ruby in the Dust were setting one of my favourite Shakespeare plays in New Orleans and infusing it with the music of one of my favourite bluesmen, Dr John, I’m going to be honest and say I approached it with a mixture of intrigue and here-we-go-again trepidation.

But from the moment Sid Phoenix as Puck — got up in white make-up and the garb of a New Orleans witch doctor — sets the scene, you know this is going to be intoxicating and heady stuff. Any thought of the pastoral whimsy that usually accompanies the story of magic and fairies is jettisoned in favour of a dark tale that captures the steamy, oppressive atmosphere of the Louisiana Bayou, where the voodoo casts its spell.

It almost feels that the verse was written for these accents (although one or two do waver now and again) such is setting the play in the Deep South a good fit. And the music of Dr John, along with that of Randy Newman and Louis Armstrong, is neatly blended into the narrative without being overused.

Matthew Woodyatt, as an ebullient Bottom, and the Mechanicals provide the light relief (the play-within-a-play at the end is slightly overdone, to be honest), but the real thrill of this production comes from the compelling action involving the lovers and their other worldly counterparts.

Silvana Maimone is electrifying as she makes Titania into a Marie Laveau the Voodoo Queen-style character, and the hypnotic Samantha Louise Clark and EJ Martin, as Hermia and Helena respectively, are either smouldering seductively or going at each other like alley cats. But through it all there’s the compelling performance of Sid Phoenix who stalks the stage revelling in the results of his trickery. He put me rather in mind of Heath Ledger’s turn as The Joker in The Dark Knight as he giggles excitedly at the results of his handiwork.

I loved this interpretation; it’s dark, seductive and deliciously wicked.

Reviewed by Tony Peters

A Midsummer Night’s Dream in New Orleans is playing at the Arts Theatre until 29 August 2015. Click here to book tickets