Much like an efficient streetcar system, or a unique and authentic ethnic neighbourhood of some kind, summer productions of Shakespeare in public parks testify to a certain urban sophistication—a coming of age. Thanks to Bonnie MacLeod, the newest creative addition to the growing downtown theatre scene, Sydney just grew up a little bit more.
And summer park theatre doesn’t really get any more classic than Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at dusk in Wentworth Park’s refurbished bandshell. If you’re not familiar with the play, Google it. ‘Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most light-hearted plays. It’s fun, goofy, witty and genuinely kid friendly. It calls for scads of loveable dullards, mischievous faeries and exuberant lovers finding themselves in scene after farcical scene of potion-laden, misdirected affection. Ken Chisholm can give you the veteran thespian’s take on it (see Chisholm’s review); this is the macro analysis.
For MacLeod, this isn’t the first time she’s brought Shakespeare into a public space. Last summer in Kingston, Ontario she brought Shakespeare into the park, but this is her first production in Cape Breton. Described as a “democratic” director by cast members, MacLeod turns over much of the creative interpretation to the actors.
“There are things that I could never conceptualize from the script,” she says after Thursday night’s performance referring to the input from the fresh-faced twenty-two member cast. If you think two dozen actors for five nights on an outdoor stage is ambitious, MacLeod can tell you—in a uniquely endearing modesty—that next year holds all kinds of opportunities. Among Sydney’s “beautiful backdrops”, MacLeod eyes places like Petersfield Park and the Boardwalk as possible stages for next year.
Given the immense response from hungry theatre fans (I counted very swiftly and with reckless abandon about 70 pairs of eyes on Thursday night—if you counted something much different, you’re probably right), next year is something that should be on the minds of the growing, diverse and impressively welcoming theatre community.
Mark Delaney, giving the production’s standout performance as the wonderfully deluded Nick Bottom, is a fantastic example of the wide-open theatre scene. After a number of years in the great cities of the West, Delaney returned to Cape Breton last year and has since taken on major roles in productions of The Tempest, Death of a Salesman, and One For The Road. Bottom is the latest addition to his expanding CV. “I’ve made a gaggle of new friends, which I’m excited about,” he says about sudden affirmation in the local theatre. Other notable performances include Nicole MacDougall’s appropriately air-headed Hermia, Lindsay Thompson who exquisitely executed Helena’s psycho-affection, and Amber Cragg who pulled off a surprise 1990s street-kid rendition of Robin Goodfellow.