A Midsummer Night's Dream

Graeme Stewart slips on his dancing shoes for an extraordinary night at the Grand Opera House

Having opened its tour in Edinburgh at the beginning of March, tonight is Belfast’s turn to experience Northern Ballet Theatre’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

With a creative team including artistic director David Nixon, set designer Duncan Hayler and music director John Pryce-Jones, the production is a stunning display of visual and musical delights, and certainly one of the best contemporary interpretations of Shakespeare’s masterpiece.

As the audience enters the Grand Opera House, one is almost immediately part of the production as we watch the dancers warm-up on stage, preparing for their ‘rehearsal’ of Romeo and Juliet

A Midsummer Night's Dream deals with three simultaneous love stories, concentrating on the two central characters, Theseus and Hippolyta. In the original treatment Theseus is the Duke of Athens and Hippolyta the Amazonian Queen; this production places both characters in the situation of a dance company wherein Theseus (Hironao Takahashi) is the artistic director and Hippolyta (Keiko Amemori) his principal dancer. 

Not only are their characters integral to the plot, but for me both Takahashi and Amemori give the most memorable performances of the night, particularly towards the end of the second act when they are finally reconciled following Puck’s little misadventure, accompanied by ‘Nocturne’ from Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream - a perfect combination of movement and sound.

Musical director Pryce-Jones gives a solid interpretation of music arranger John Longstaff’s prepared score, which includes extracts from Brahms’ Symphonies No. 2 & 4, Mendelssohn’s ‘Scottish’, ‘Italian’ and 'String' Symphonies and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet

Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream features prominently and is used to great effect, particularly when Nick Bottom’s Donkey is reeling back and forth across the stage in disbelief, underscored quite aptly by ‘Dance of the Clowns’, crudely mimicking Bottom’s newly found linguistic skills.

Other performances of note include the other five main characters - Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius, Helena and of course Robin Puck. 

Victoria Sibson gives a memorable performance as the mischievous ally of Oberon, King of the Fairies, and is undoubtedly one of the evening’s highlights. Pippa Moore (playing Helena) and Tobias Batley (Demetrius) display some of the most technically challenging dancing in the production, superbly choreographed by Ballet Master Daniel de Andrade and Ballet mistress Yoko Ichino.

It is also worth mentioning Duncan Hayler’s fantastic stage design, which moves us seamlessly through each situation; whether it be the interior of a ballet studio or King’s Cross Station the audience are transported through each scenario with a sense of realism and clarity which is subsequently reinforced by subtle lighting and various other immersive effects.

What Northern Ballet Theatre has achieved with this production is something extraordinary. They have taken one of English literature’s most well-loved plays and changed nothing and everything at the same time. 

In the closing scene of the production Puck stands in front of the audience with a monologue, 'If we shadows have offended, think but this, and all is mended, that you have but slumber'd here, while these visions did appear…So, good night unto you all. Give me your hands, if we be friends, And Robin shall restore amends.' Something tells me Belfast will be friends with Northern Ballet Theatre for many years to come.