A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Actors from the London Stage visit UTSA

The full fruity voices and the vibrant personae of the five-member cast of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” thrilled the audience on the evening of Saturday, Oct. 24.

Saturday’s performance was the last of three performances sponsored by the UTSA Friends of Shakespeare group and delivered by the Actors From The London Stage at the university.

Actors From The London Stage (AFTLS) is a cohort of five British actors from prestigious acting companies in England, such as the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal National Theatre and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

The acting of Patrick Moy, Claire Redcliffe, Samuel Collings, Ffion Jolly and Chris Donnelly was exceptional, amazing, electric. The choreography was creative; the timing superb; the stage never static, every moment as precise and sacred as a ballet.

Despite the forte of the artists, I experienced the performance fixed in my red-cushioned plastic folding seat of the Arts Building Recital Hall, not able to complete the journey into the realm of Shakespearean comedy.

Every cast member played at least four parts — some roles overlapped and many appeared (and disappeared) on stage at the same time. Considering the duration of the play, following the switch from role to role (especially onerous if not au courant with the play) was like chasing an agitated horsefly with a dishcloth for three hours.

The play opens in a operatic dissonance of Athenian Court: Duke Thesus (Patrick Moy) announces his marriage to Hippolyta (Ffion Jolly); Hermia (Clarie Redcliff) and Lysander (Samuel Collins) are in love, but Hermia’s father Egeus (Chris Donnelly) forbids their union and insists that Hermia marry Demetrius (Chris Donnelly) who also loves Hermia; Athenian law mandates that Hermia must obey her father by punishment of death or cloister; Hermia and Lysander decide to elope and marry in the forest; Hermia’s friend Helena (Ffion Jolly) loves Demetrius and tells him of Hermia’s elopement.

The Athenian love quadrant then stows out of Athens, into the woods and into the crosshairs of the Fairy Queen Titania (Clarie Redcliffe), King of the Fairies Oberon (Samuel Collins) and Oberon’s sidekick Puck (Patrick Moy).

For a casual observer, the opening scenes were quite hard to follow: Who’s who, who loves who, who’s father did what, where are the subtitles, what are they saying now, why are there chairs on the stage, why is everyone laughing, should I have brought my No Fear Shakespeare?

The rapid character swaps — compounded by Shakespeare’s distinct syntax, vernacular and slap-stick pace — left some audience members relying on the, fortunately, grandiose movements of the actors and their character-specific accessories.

The pinnacle of comedy, performance highlight and ironically least confusing of the show was the play ‘Pryamus and Thisbe’ within the play.

Granted, Shakespeare is not for the easily discouraged, and perhaps part of the triumph of playgoer is the self-affirmation that accompanies catching some of the bard’s quick wit.

Following the intermission, an exodus of student patrons introduced the problem accessibility; relevant, as The Oregon Shakespeare Festival recently announced its commission of 36 playwrights to translate Shakespeare’s plays into modern English.

The question of accessibility is a query to the crux of Shakespeare’s talent — whether the heart of the master is his singularly light turgid language or in his imagination of complex themes and tragic, classical and historical characters?

The length may deter modern audiences too. Without betraying the original language, reducing the length of performances (perhaps 90 to 120 minutes) may be a way to pacify purists while still holding the attention of millennials.

But perhaps we think too much of those retreating patrons who exit at before the dance off and, rather, should pity their bear of poor humor and too much black bile. As the Actors From The London Stage’s performances this semester attest, when married with expert acting, Shakespeare needs minimal introduction and is enjoyed and lauded by modern audiences.