Brisbane Immersive Ensemble have turned their expertise for site-specific performance to The Stores building at Brisbane Powerhouse with The Midsummer Carnival, transforming it into a mystical forest and carnival fairground to serve as the backdrop for their rendition of Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream focuses on four Athenian lovers – Hermia and Lysander, and Helena and Demetrius – and a group of amateur actors, The Mechanicals, travelling through a mystical forest, who are enchanted and controlled by the fairies who reside there. Brisbane Immersive Ensemble’s production transplants this story of magical mayhem and mistaken identities to a carnival ground and audiences are welcomed into the space and set free to wander, sit, stand, or chat as the story unfolds around them. Audience members can choose which characters they follow and interact with, and to this end it is perhaps best to go in knowing the shape of the play – a quick Wikipedia search will give you the bones of the story – in order to choose which characters you are interested in, or to ensure that you don’t miss any key points of the story while you’re engaged in the other room. I’d recommend bringing some spare change to play the carnival games (although you can also pay by card) and wear either comfy shoes or something you can sit on the floor in, since seating is limited during the 75 minute performance (although, you will want to be moving around to follow the action!). Hermia and Lysander were integrated into the crowd before the audience even entered the performance space, and I didn’t recognise them as actors until their first scene began – surely this is true immersive theatre, when you can’t tell the actors from the audience.
Titania, the Fairy Queen recast as a fortune teller with King Oberon as ringmaster, welcomed us into her tent to read the fortunes of audience members, and her glorious singing voice and melodrama were a highlight of the evening; Puck was mischievous and self-assured in the role of fairground hypnotist; and the cast of The Mechanicals were brilliant in their slapstick and physical humour, bringing all the threads of the story together for their play in the show’s finale.
The transformation of The Stores building into a fairground, complete with games, trick mirrors, and a stage under the ‘big top’ was impressive, although the acoustics and simultaneous action meant that it was sometimes difficult to hear the actors clearly. The carnival theme also carried over to the lavish costuming, much of which was created in shimmering burlesque style.
The entire cast is to be commended for their performance of highly physical acting, acrobatics, dancing, and more in high temperatures – the Stores Building is not well-ventilated for a performance of this nature, and the cast did an admirable job in the difficult conditions of a Brisbane summer evening. The performance incorporates both modern and Shakespearian language, and this too was handled seamlessly by the cast.
Brisbane Immersive Ensemble will perform The Midsummer Carnival at the Stores Building at Brisbane Powerhouse from 24 January – 9 February. For ticketing and further information, visit the Brisbane Powerhouse website.