As soft as a white rabbit’s fur: Edwin Landseer’s Scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Titania and Bottom (1848–51). In a down of fur, the painting, in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, depicts Titania, the Queen of the Fairies, besotted with Bottom, who has recently been reshaped into an ass, from William Shakespeare’s comedy of misplacement. A fairy queen and an ass, two, of opposite realms, entwined and for all to see, in the fairy dell, accompanied by the requisite fairy folk and white rabbits, and on the red wall of the salon room. In an engraving of Titania and Bottom by Henry Fuseli they, too, are encircled by a cast of magical inhabitants, and the print of ink assumes the blush of a rose. To look at both is to cross into the fairy realm. And now I shall add to this Liam Scarlett’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, created in 2016, in co-production between Queensland Ballet and Royal New Zealand Ballet.
To a silvered photograph of Vivian Leigh as Titania (on stage at the Old Vic Theatre in 1937), her right arm extended, her gaze following its line, Queensland Ballet’s Laura Hidalgo, in ethereal gown. From Frederick Ashton’s delirious ass en pointe within The Dream to Judi Dench as a loved-up, painted in green fairy queen in the Peter Hall film of 1968, my Midsummer wunderkammer continues to grow. Seated in Her Majesty’s Theatre on opening night, I am accompanied by all of these versions of Titania and Bottom. The moonlit forest I entered was a familiar one, and yet it was not. I knew I would meet old friends. I anticipated couples to be spun into complicated scenarios. I was expecting to be as bewildered as if I was also beneath a spell. Fairies, and Changlings, and Lovers, oh mischief!
Upon a stage made iridescent by fairy benevolence, Queensland Ballet have brought this magic to Melbourne on tour. First performed by Queensland Ballet in 2016, with set and costume design by Tracy Grant Lord, the palette may be brighter than a glow-stick, but it wears its heart upon its wing. In Scarlett’s choreography, the cast of characters, from Cobwebb and Moth to Lovers contrary, in the few moments they did pause, they did so in a circular formation, echoing Landseer and Fuseli’s compositions. And Oberon, performed by Victor Estévez, sported exaggerated winged eye makeup not so dissimilar to the photographic still of Leigh. See and hear the cymbals and triangles upon his arrival! There are, and will continue to be, many versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and for them to work, for me, they must be infused with Shakespeare’s own lines plucked from the page: “Our true intent is. All for your delight”. And delight it was.