(Steve Dow’s article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, 3/1; A Midsummer Night’s Dream Adelaide Festival 2021: Photo: CREDIT:TONY LEWIS.)
Adelaide Festival opening weekend
Adelaide, Feb 26 – March 14
Adelaide Festival’s opening weekend conjured worlds beyond the mortal realm of coronavirus and international border closures, courtesy of a United States countertenor released from quarantine to reign over impish fairies and an acrobatic troupe and choir who pulsed as one in a spectacle of human possibility.
Festival co-director Neil Armfield revived his production of the Benjamin Britten opera A Midsummer Night’s Dream, first staged for the Houston Grand Opera in 2009, and the Festival Theatre fizzed with celebration to help its audience forget that COVID-19 travel restrictions had blocked artists from across the African continent, the UK, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Russia, Canada, Spain, Scandinavia, Israel and Lebanon from physically entering Australia.
A musical take on Shakespeare’s greatest comedy by mostly local performers slipped past our existential fears into the entertaining absurdity of fairy queen Tytania (an elegant Rachelle Durkin) falling for a ham actor named Bottom (Warwick Fyfe in a fabulously physical comic turn).
The bestial implications of this tryst could not be escaped as troublemaker Puck (an agile Mark Coles Smith) mimed the humping for audience members, who probably wondered if they too had at some point in their lives been enamoured with an ass. Floating in from above was the mellifluous high timbre of San Francisco-based countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen as king of the fairies Oberon, transported from the ceiling in regal feather headdress.
With some 70 events, including 10 world premieres and 14 Australian premieres – four to be live streamed from overseas – the festival had rallied. That said, more Indigenous Australian works would have been ideal (the festival lost a planned Bangarra Dance Theatre touring show during planning because of state border uncertainties).
At the rebuilt Edwardian theatre Her Majesty’s, the new timber auditorium resembling a ship’s hull, the spectacular Pulse brought together all three core ensembles of Adelaide acrobatic
troupe Gravity & Other Myths and the 30-strong local youth choir Aurora.
Director Darcy Grant put all 60 performers on stage from the outset, and the controlled mayhem continued to deliver inventive feats of physical alacrity, sprinkled with wit. The choir sing-counted (“one-two-three”) like a pulsing heartbeat, later chanting and responding in harmony to the acrobats’ exertions like a religious rite. The troupe climbed into fabulous high configurations, reminding us of what a collective might achieve.