So here is Peaseblossom: cheeky, chirpy, distributing flowers amongst the audience with a wink and a smile. The purple one is very special, she confides to the young woman sitting next to me in the front row. Take it – but when I ask, you’ll give it back to me, won’t you? She’s coming! says Peaseblossom, and now Titania is in the room, wild, lyrical, flighty. She picks up a cello sat on a music stand which is decorated with – of course – fairy lights. Her voice soars and sighs, the cello bowed with fast, intense passion. And now here is Puck: laconic, jazzy, the embodiment of cool. Oberon is shrouded in smoke, a breathy growl.
All of these characters are embodied in one person – the only person on stage – the highly talented Anna-Helen McLean, former principal performer with Poland’s Gardzienice Centre for Theatre Practices, and artistic associate of that other Grotowski-legacy Polish company, Song of the Goat. She brings to this one-woman tour-de-force her years of experience as a singer, composer and physical theatre performer; morphing with ease from one character to another in this highly entertaining piece inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Her relationship with the audience also reflects her experience as a performer, most notably in the scene in which Oberon drugs Titania, causing her to fall in love with the first creature she sees. Anna-Helena has us baa-ing and barking and howling at the moon like fools. She then comes amongst us, and pulls her chosen Bottom out of the audience, leading him to her bower, a whole team of fairy helpers enlisted to stroke his brow and scatter rose petals over him.
At other points, her cello is her lover. Sometimes she sits on the low stool and plays, often bringing multi-track looping of the instrument and of her voice into the mix. Extraordinary sounds come from her – something between beatboxing and scat singing. Often she stands, or squats, or crouches – still in perfect control of the cello. If she’s not looping her voice, she sings without a mic, hitting a wonderful range of notes. As she sings ‘mermaid on a dolphin’s back’ she hits the siren-high notes as she straddles the cello. As Oberon arrives to growl ‘ill met by moonlight’, she channels him with her back to us, her voice is as low as low could be.
There are things that could be improved. I’m not too keen on the stage design – the astroturf and silk flowers are a little kitsch, but not kitsch enough to be interesting. I’d also happily see the smoke machine out of the action – it feels like an unnecessary theatrical trimming. There are times when the piece becomes so much of a showcase for Anna-Helena’s talents that it loses a little bit of its soul.
But mostly it’s a truly accomplished and entertaining take on Shakespeare’s comedy; full of sparkle, magic and music.
Moon Fool Titania plays at Summerhall throughout August, every day except Mondays.