The Midsummer Carnival

The Midsummer Carnival
Brisbane Powerhouse, 24 January to 8 February, 2020

Presented by Brisbane Immersive Ensemble and the Brisbane Powerhouse, The Midsummer Carnival is a mix of daring carnival feats, sideshow alley tricksters, cabaret singing, gypsy jazz and audience participation. This short adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream transports that famous tale to the fairgrounds and alleyways of a local travelling show. The Brisbane Immersive talents are many and varied – from acrobatics to singing, to sword-swallowing. The atmosphere is fun and engaging. The Bard’s parallel stories – the fairies, the lovers, the players – are placed in three distinct performance spaces: a sideshow alley; a fortune teller’s tent; and a small stage area. Colourful-costumed fairground performers mingle with the audience as they go about their entertainments. Ordinary-looking punters become vocal, professing their love as it becomes apparent that other performers are in our midst. I enjoyed wondering who else in the crowd was an actor, and where it was going to lead.

The energetic Patrick Shearer as Puck takes us and his fellow magic revellers into an intriguing atmosphere where it is up to you how much you gain from the performances. The enigmatic Stephen Hirst is a strong theatrical presence, leading us as master of the three-ring mayhem that includes the vocal talents of Meg Hamilton as a bewitching Titania. The fairies (Stefan Cooper-Fox, Gina Limpus, Tahlia Downs, Chris Braithwaite, Leah Fitzgerald-Quinn and Lilith Revere) flit in and out of proceedings, performing circus tricks. The lovers (Zoe Harlen, Ben Walton, Brooke McElligott and Jackson McGovern) are fresh and funny, walking among the crowd, interacting as they play their parts, lost in Puck’s hypnotic spell.

In theory it is a wonderful idea; in practice, the venue needs to work harder to support the showcase of some very highly skilled and entertaining performers and help to intertwine the dialogue and story into a coherent mix. In the Store Rooms, the noise of each separate entertainment travels and blurs the clarity of performances. The actors are not mic-ed up and so, even when singing their hearts out, voices disappear up into the high ceiling. Not so lucky with the venue’s ability to store up the mid-summer heat – a minor distraction from the goings-on – of which there were plenty. In the play within a play, performed by the Rude Mechanicals, the actors – and ring-ins from the audience – or were they? – certainly had fun and showcased their comic skills, especially Johanna Lyon who was a hoot as Snout, forced to portray The Wall. The standout sideline is the music performed by duo on guitar and clarinet. Standards like Blue Moon and Moondance take on a new light as accompaniment to the band of gypsy brothers and sisters and are highly entertaining in their own right.

Artistic Director, Xanthe Jones, says, "The show will take place all around you and everywhere at once.” And that was the challenge for me – I kept feeling that I’d missed something in the other room while enjoying the music or the acting. But if you are more fleet of foot, by roaming the three performance spaces and stalking the performers, you will have a jolly entertaining time. The carnival atmosphere could spark greater interest in the 16th-century playwright – and I’m sure Brisbane Immersive will gain a dedicated following for their theatrical flair and fun.

Beth Keehn

Photographer: Shalyn Knight

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