Preview: Midsummer Night's Dream a beloved Shakespearean comedy for all ages

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Joel Cochrane is feeling particularly regal these days. In The Shakespeare Company and Hit & Myth Productions’ version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Cochrane plays both Theseus, king of Thebes, and Oberon, king of fairyland, which means, for two hours every night, Cochrane is pretty much in control of all things.

In Shakespeare’s Dream, the human and fairy worlds are mirrors of each other, which means when there is discord in one world, there will be strife and friction in the other. In Thebes, Theseus and his queen, Hippolyta, are at odds over his treatment of a pair of young lovers. In the fairyland, Oberon and his queen, Titania, are feuding over a gift she refuses to share with him. When the young lovers and a band of amateur actors come to the forest, they all get entangled in Oberon’s revenge plot.

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“The Dream remains one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies because it is such a fun story, and it is so easily accessible. It’s all about love, grace and forgiveness. It’s funny, and it’s magical,” says Cochrane, who first saw Dream in 1980 when he was studying at the University of Alberta. “It was an outdoor production in a tent, and yet I remember being struck by how magical it seemed.”

Fifteen years later, Cochrane took his seven-year-old daughter to a production of Dream in London.

“There were a lot of sexual overtones in that particular production. I was a bit uncomfortable wondering what my daughter was thinking. At intermission, the first thing she said was, ‘Boy that Shakespeare really knew how to write plays for kids.’ All of those adult themes had gone right over her head, and she’d been enchanted by all the whimsical things. This really is the one Shakespeare play the whole family can enjoy together.”

Cochrane’s two queens are played by Daniela Vlaskalic, his real-life partner.

“Daniela and I have done several shows together, so we have a shorthand which really works for us in this production of the Dream. It’s easy for us to interact and it feels so natural.”

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Cochrane says he likes Oberon because “he’s essentially a guy who’s in love with love. He’s also petulant, jealous and angry, which gives me so much to play with. I love that he’s always trying to stay three steps ahead of everyone else which is what gets him, and his schemes, into so much trouble.”

Because playing these two characters requires several quick changes, Cochrane says his makeup is quite simple, but quickly adds “The costumes are really fun. Our costume designer, Ralamy Kneeshaw, has made a strong visual differentiation between these two characters, and their worlds.”

Cochrane’s third role in this production of Dream is that of co-producer, through his company Hit & Myth Productions.

“Hit and Myth has been in partnership with The Shakespeare Company since 2013 when Haysam Kadri asked if I’d like to co-produce William Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead, a crazy zombie and Shakespeare mashup. Since then we’ve done 20 shows with The Shakespeare Company.

“I think TSC is one of the most important companies in the city because it’s where emerging actors come to get their feet wet. Haysam set it up to be a mentorship company where young actors could work and learn from professional actors.”

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Bernardo Pacheco, Joel David Taylor, Ali Grams and Annisha Plesche play the young lovers, with Tyrell Crews in the plumb role of Bottom, the actor who falls prey to Oberon’s magic and is turned into an ass.

Edmonton director Ron Jenkins, whose previous credits with TSC include Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Julius Caesar, is staging this Dream, and Cochrane promises Jenkins is “bringing a great deal of madcap energy to the show. He’s such an inventive director and he’s a stickler for comic detail. You may have seen a Dream before, but not like this one.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs in the Vertigo Studio Theatre at the base of The Calgary Tower from May 17 through June 1. It is the final play in The Shakespeare Company’s 25th anniversary season which included The Dark Lady, a co-production with Lunchbox Theatre; the musical Something Rotten, a co-production with StoryBook Theatre; and the remounting of TSC’s 2023 Hamlet, starring Pakistani superstar (and former Calgarian) Ahad Raza Mir, all in partnership with Hit & Myth.

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