It’s safe to say that after 400 years, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the most well trodden plays in history. However, in their latest production, SUDS, has managed to breathe fresh air into a classic. Directed by Katie Ord, Midsummer Madness is a “modern musical response” to Shakespeare’s work, reshaping the play as a contemporary exploration of love, identity and sexuality.
A self described “queer fantasia”, Midsummer Madness charts the romance of two couples caught in family politics and repressed emotions. The show’s leads effectively bounce between iambic pentameter and the show’s original lyrics, torn between their parent’s plans and personal desires, diving in and out of the fantasy realm. Sophie Szecsodi’s Lysandra and Sophie Takatsuka’s Hermia are a couple meant to be but their love is at odds with the world around them. Both delivering engaging performances, their chemistry on stage is exciting to watch. While Ethan Malacaria’s Helenus and Joshua Karras’ Demetrius are tangoing around their feelings to try and better fit in with the people around them. Eleanor Fair plays a delightfully egomaniacal Nicky Bottom, Rosanna Lam a mischievous and captivating Puck/Philostrate, while Paris Jeffrey and Martin Everret deliver regal and powerful singing performances as Titania/Hippolyta and Oberon/Theseus.
Composed by Alex Paterson, Emma Snellgrove and Nikolas Zielinski, Midsummer Madness takes a tour of musical theatre. Featuring an array of emotional ballads, catchy hooks and raps reminiscent of Lin Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights and Hamilton, it’s impressive how wide a musical palette the show’s creative team has developed. Songs like Shot Me with Love are genuinely catchy, while Lover’s Feud is powerfully driven by the actor’s emotions. While there are moments I did feel the rapping was a little awkward, the music overall elevates the show beyond just another student Shakespeare adaptation, allowing for extra subtext and jokes that better connect with a modern audience.
The Cellar Theatre is a difficult space to stage a show in at the best of times. Plagued by an array of poles and pylons, it’s not exactly a wide open space to choreograph in. It’s impressive what the team has attempted to do in presenting this show. Yet, at moments like the play within a play, the dank Cellar feels like the perfect venue for the show. The audience has been split down the middle in order to allow for a runway, giving performers greater space to dance and act within. Ord and their team did a great job making sure their actors didn’t feel like they were held back by the space.
Overall the choreography is strong, yet understandably there were moments it felt like energy would dip across the show’s 2 hour runtime, particularly when the dance ensemble was hampered by covid isolations in the week leading up to the show and the audience were told of the need for an understudy that night.
While the acting and music is great, it’s hard to avoid the deeply creepy elements of the narrative of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Using potions to make people fall in love is a tough pill to swallow, no matter how you cut it. I think completely overcoming this dated element would be a near impossible feat. Midsummer Madness is able to recast these scenes as a discovery of feelings within and the opportunity for key characters to establish boundaries. It speaks to the creative team’s skills that they attempted to broach this problem in a new and innovative style.
Ord and their team should be proud of the production they have created. It’s engaging, funny, with beautiful sets, music and costumes. Shakespeare is a big target at the best of times and to reinvigorate a tired story into a musical is an impressive feat. I look forward to the upcoming album of the show’s soundtrack.