Matthew Backer is developing the knack of playing otherworldly fairies. Having recently played Ariel in Bell Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Backer takes on Puck in the Sydney Theatre Company’s newest version of A Midsummer Nights Dream.
“I’ve spent weeks saying, ‘how do I crack this little spirit?’ but I’ve been down this road before. The magic is in the words and it’s about giving them the other-worldly power they need,” said Backer.
‘Dream tracks the explosion of yearning and desire that is unleashed as four young people break away and run headlong into the forest-realm, to pursue their own future. It is a place of dreams and nightmares, transgression and transformation, and Puck is casting the spells.
The ‘canon-like’ stature of Shakespeare means that any production is invariably judged by its ‘take’ on some very well known material. According to Backer, director Kip Williams places this version comfortably in its own little world, somewhere outside of space and time. Likewise, Backer’s portrayal of Puck is destined to overturn audience preconceptions. “I’m hoping they will be very, very unsure of his intention,” he added.
Without doubt Williams has assembled an outstanding ensemble – “the bees-knees of a cast”, says Backer. “To be on stage watching Paula Arundel and Robert Menzies go at it, as Titania and Oberon is ‘pinch-me-worthy’ – those moments are so nice as a younger actor.”
Several weeks into rehearsal and according to Backer, the cast are “well and truly into the woods” and with opening night only weeks away, there is a healthy anxiety: “The good thing about where we are right now is that we have no idea what it is going to be. I think that is terribly cool.” (GW)
Sep 12–Oct 22, evenings and matinees. Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House. $50-$104. Tickets & info: sydneytheatre.com.au or (02) 9250 1777