Wednesday 28 June 2023

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Figure’s Musical Director Frederick Waxman introduces their upcoming Shakespeare/Mendelssohn production at Opera Holland Park

Frederick Waxman conducts Handel’s Serse at Opera Holland Park, June 2022
Frederick Waxman conducts Handel’s Serse at Opera Holland Park, June 2022

After the success of their “fantastically detailed” (The Guardian) production of Handel’s Serse last year, acclaimed historical performance ensemble Figure return to Opera Holland Park this week, from Thursday 29 June – Saturday 1 July with a production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, accompanied by Mendelssohn’s enchanting incidental music. 

In a new, highly-physical production directed by Sam Rayner (listed in The Guardian's Readers' Favourite Shows of 2022 and The New York Times' Critics' Picks of 2023), Figure is joined by a fantastic cast including RSC Associate and Harry Potter actor Ray Fearon as Oberon, comedian and star of Netflix series Shadow and Bone Anna Leong Brophy as Titania, and T. S. Eliot Prize-winning author and performer Joelle Taylor as Puck, as well as a children’s chorus from Theatre Peckham and soprano soloists Rowan Pierce and new OAE Rising Star, Madison Nonoa.

With Midsummer’s eve descending, four young lovers and a troupe of am-dram artisans venture into the woods, but little do they know of the amorous shenanigans about to ensue – or is it what they always dreamed of?

Join Figure at Opera Holland Park from Thursday 29th June – Saturday 1st July

Here, Figure’s Musical & Co-Artistic Director, Frederick Waxman introduces the production:

I’ve always wanted to conduct Mendelssohn’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and to perform it in the context of the whole play – it’s not often done in a full production like this. We also knew that Opera Holland Park, a semi-outdoor venue surrounded by trees and gardens, at midsummer, would be the perfect setting for this show – for as the sun sets and night falls, so the lovers and mechanicals venture further into the woods and the magical realm. 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is arguably Shakespeare’s most loved comedy but, like a fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, the aspects of the play that seem sweet and gentle conceal the diabolical perversity at its heart. Beneath the japes, Dream explores patriarchal power and violence, restrictions on sexual freedom, and frequently questions our perception of reality. The Athenian court is a world of rigidity but, in the woods, characters are liberated from the court’s rule; it is a space where desire reigns, where conscious and unconscious experience is probed and laid bare, and where the imagination abounds. So much of our lives lies beneath the surface and theatre is a space in which imagination and the internal world reigns supreme, no more so than in this play. 

Our production’s fairy-tale aesthetic seeks to pose questions about our perception of reality – by using an interactive and malleable set design, where we repeatedly create and reimagine the space, we will allow the surreal and the real to move side by side. Visually, we decided to adopt a 19th-century aesthetic in sympathy with Mendelssohn’s Romantic music, which is in a constant conversation with Shakespeare’s play, both responding to and driving the drama – you cannot help but be literally moved by it, as our actors have found in the rehearsal room. 

We’re very familiar with the Overture and of course the ‘Wedding March’, but our production is a rare chance to hear Mendelssohn’s Incidental Music as it was originally intended. The score was commissioned by King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia and written to serve Shakespeare’s play in the theatre. German was likely the first language into which any Shakespeare was translated and the bard enjoyed an ardent renaissance in late-19th century Germany, not least because of Mendelssohn’s music. It has such an expressive range, from joyous outbursts to cheeky interjections, as well as moments of heart-aching beauty and chilling suspense. The bulk of the music is designed to connect various scenes and our cast have thoroughly enjoyed devising choreography for these passages, for instance as they venture into the forest for the first time, hurrying with glee and trepidation as the flutes and violins scamper and scurry. Where Mendelssohn writes music to underscore the dialogue, Shakespeare’s words are enhanced and their meaning deepened, like in a film – I think our audiences will be surprised by how modern and cinematic these sections feel.

Our show promises to be a joyful and original production of a life-affirming classic, accompanied by Mendelssohn’s glorious music performed by over 70 actors and musicians. Join us and get lost in the woods in Holland Park this Midsummer.

For more details, including a full cast list and tickets (from £20 inc. an offer for Under 30s and -20% for Concessions) please visit the Opera Holland Park website.

Praise for Figure's previous events

"a display of real quality... [Figure] gave us that whole-hearted performance, enveloping us in glorious sound… all the signs are that Figure could become a distinctive fixture on the scene.”
★★★★ The Times on THIS IS MY BODY, an immersive staging of Buxtehude's Membra Jesu Nostri at the Swiss Church in London, March 2023

"An unusual Saturday night but an undeniably glorious one: Figure’s aims of producing historically-informed and wholly-accessible classical music are achieved... It is a secular act of worship for the arts, and one I would long to see repeated."  
The Independent on Reflection and Remembrance: Requiems by Fauré and Charpentier at Union Chapel, November 2022 

“fantastically detailed storytelling… [with a] consistent buoyancy of playing... Figure clearly has good ideas, good musicians and good support, so expect to see more of them.”
Erica Jeal, The Guardian on Handel’s Serse at Opera Holland Park, June 2022

"Musically, under the stylish direction of Frederick Waxman from one of two harpsichords, there was already a lot to admire.”  
Hugh Canning, Opera Magazine on Handel’s Serse at Opera Holland Park, June 2022

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