Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Nonexistant Theatre)

IMG_0639Toronto’s Nonexistant Theatre attempts a darker take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream

If you’re in the mood to see Shakespeare’s, A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a cozy garden, you wouldn’t be amiss seeing Nonexistant Theatre’s debut production. My guest and I both enjoyed ourselves at this show and were glad we got to see it. But overall, I couldn’t help but feel that it fell short of its stated goal to deliver a darker, more serious portrayal of Midsummer.

This is a very ambitious production that bills itself as a dark comedic take on the classic piece that seeks to explore the “images of rape, drugs, and psychosis” prevalent in the play. Walking into the Majilis Art Garden, an alleyway full of vines and overgrown gardens, it definitely felt like I was walking into a twisted magical forest.

Though I applaud the creative team for trying to bring out the darker, more serious themes in this show, I felt these ideas didn’t read clearly. I was never really sold on this being anything more than a typical production of Midsummer.

There were definitely moments that alluded to sexual assault, more than a typical reading of Midsummer (which still has that subtext), but there was no payoff. It particularly bothered me to see a character violated but remain relatively unchanged through the rest of the show. If there was a message, it didn’t read clearly for my guest and I. Though I want to see shows that bring light to issues of gender inequality and abuse, I came away from this production feeling they could have been better addressed.

There were many interesting elements in this show, but they just didn’t feel cohesive to me. Some of the costume choices were off-putting, and the music was often jarring as well, using string arrangements of pop-songs like Billie Jean when the show clearly wasn’t being done as a period piece.

Perhaps wanting to delve into darker subjects is why I felt the humour felt flat at times. The actors seemed to be pulling back on punch lines, which was a shame because some of them really shined playing up the comedic aspects of the show. The larger ensemble scenes allowed this cast to shine, which is why I was disappointed to see that the “play within a play” was cut from this production.

There were plenty of bright spots though. Many of the performers were lovely to watch, I particularly enjoyed Erin Humphry’s portrayal of Hermia. And also thought Rashaana Cumberbatch was incredible as Titania; she commanded the attention of both the audience and her fairies onstage. Margaret Rose as Puck had excellent movement onstage that caught my attention, even when she was silent.

I’ve said in previous reviews that coming (recently) from university theatre, I have two levels on which I gage shows. If this was being put on over at U of T or Ryerson as a campus production, I’d probably be coming away very impressed by it. However, Nonexistant clearly has greater aspirations than that. And thus, I can say that overall this play didn’t quite meet my expectations for a “dark comedy” portrayal of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Though I enjoyed watching it, I felt that this production lacked cohesion; it pulled back on the comedy but didn’t offer much in its stead. However, this is a perfectly watchable show with some interesting ideas and solid performances, being put on by a promising new company. If you’ve got a hankering for some Shakespeare this weekend, you won’t be amiss seeing Nonexistant’s debut, but I do feel it fell short of its mark.


Photo of Rashannah Cumberbatch and Denise Norman by DJB Photography.