Shakespeare can be fun after all

Mention Shakespeare and I think of tedious hours in high school English classes

Mention Shakespeare and I think of tedious hours in high school English classes when Miss Arsenault would read a few pages each afternoon from whichever tragedy we were studying from Julius Caesar, Hamlet or Macbeth and explain what the passages meant. I also recall long-winded soliloquies she assigned us to memorize.

In those days I pin-curled my hair every night, an activity that occupied 30 minutes or thereabouts. I’d prop my book of Shakespeare in front of my dresser mirror and repeat the 20 or 30 lines aloud to myself as I twirled lock after lock of hair around my left index finger and bobby pinned it down.

Without the hours needed to achieve a perfect coif each morning, I’m not sure how I might have gone about memorizing such grim lines. If I’d been a boy, what then?

Each play was bloodier and meaner than the next with dysfunctional families abounding. Envy and revenge ranged supreme. Recollections of humour and mirth do not spring to mind.

Yet a local group of mainly amateur performers treated three successive audiences to a laugh-out-loud version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – a play we did not study – backed by a symphony orchestra of about 12 instruments; the youngest instrumentalist was only 12 years old.

I was familiar with the bare bones of the play but was amazed to learn Shakespeare’s original words, some rearranged only to be more comprehensible to us, provided the dialogue throughout.

The difference was the live acting, the costumes, the stark scenery, all of which brought the plot to life, something my teacher’s rendering could never achieve.

Probably my adult perspective added to my appreciation of the play.

In live performances, I always watch for inadvertent fumbles. Frequently they add to fun which appears more intentional than accidental, such as when Snug the Joiner, identified as The Wall by a cardboard rectangle hanging from his neck, fumbled dialogue notes from his shirt pocket sending them drifting before his feet.

A last minute recruit to the cast, he delighted attendees with his befuddled demeanour. Was he acting or just being himself? He gave no hint of nervousness.

A chorus of 15 fairies logged miles entering each time from the basement, cavorting about the stage, and then disappearing again, sweeping along four little sprites six or seven years of age.

Little ones always rate attention. To see anyone so young exhibiting the latent makings of a future actor makes me tear up. At one point in a scene, one little fellow adopted the stiffened stance of a Russell Crowe. He lacked only a fallen foe upon which to plant one foot and a sword to clutch.

The action was engaging throughout, with clear diction so every word was understandable but humour reached a new height toward the end when a lad dressed to play an irresistible young woman fended off a persistent suitor.

His/her gestures mimicked Broadway actor Anthony Lane in The Birdcage. Their antics together had the audience laughing so hard their merest gesture or raised voice triggered another outburst.

Fewer than half the pews were filled opening night. On Saturday, the final night, the 300-seat Alliance Church was sold out to families there to support the young folk.

A cast that large with detailed costuming and makeup calls for a lot of work and coordination, especially with so many young inexperienced actors. Looking forward to more from this talent pool.

I’m also told someone videotaped the final performance. A copy would make a great Christmas gift for a performer.

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