Maynardville reopens with a delightful, Shakespeare-filled programme
The Maynardville Open-Air Festival recently reopened for its annual performances with a magical performance of Mendelssohn’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ by the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra.
After years of hiatus forced on by the Covid-19 pandemic, Maynardville has returned to Cape Town, offering an exciting programme of ballet, opera, and, of course, its iconic Shakespeare performance.
The festival is now under the new management of VR Theatrical, with the leadership of Jaco van Rensburg and Wessel Odendaal, as the group revives an annual tradition of Shakespeare that has run for years since Maynardville’s first production in 1956 with The Taming of the Shrew.
“We’ve been deprived of community and of going to see live performances for almost three years after the Covid-19 pandemic, and (this year’s Maynardville festival) is a celebration of the performing arts. We are very, very proud and happy to be able to contribute to that, for people to come out to celebrate with their family and to just enjoy a beautiful, wonderful night of entertainment under the stars,” Van Rensburg tells Maverick Life.
From 5pm every performance evening, audience members are welcomed through the gates of Maynardville and into the park, where fairy lights glisten, strung above in the trees and lighting the pathways; several food trucks are gathered in open areas.
Long tables are set up under some of the trees, inviting people to come together and eat communally. These tables do fill up fast, though. Walking through the venue, the footpath opens up to the park, where visitors can put down a blanket and picnic before the show.
“It’s also a celebration of community and of being together,” says Van Rensburg; more than just a performance, it’s an experience too.
As dusk draws in, the audience moves into the open-air theatre, with tall trees opening up to a clearing, sheltering both guests and artists and gathering them all up for the night together. And then, under the watchful eye of the Bard, the music strikes up.
The first show that reopens the festival again is Felix Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, performed by the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO), conducted by Brandon Phillips with narration by John Woodland. This performance, which ran from 19 to 21 January, is perhaps the perfect way to revive Maynardville ahead of the production of the same play in February, with the breathtaking sounds of the orchestra, the captivating chorus of Vox Cape Town and the drama of Woodland’s narration all weaving together a spectacular performance that pays a fitting tribute to Mendelssohn and Shakespeare both.
“Presenting Shakespeare’s immortal text and music inspired by it on a balmy Cape evening at Maynardville was the perfect union of manuscript, musical score and setting,” Woodland says.
Mendelssohn composed the Overture for A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 17 years old, and then wrote the incidental music, Op. 61, when he was commissioned by King Frederick William IV of Prussia in 1842. Almost two centuries later, the entire work is known as some of his best. With the lighter notes of dancing fairies, the calls of the hunters, the melodies of the royal court and the braying of the donkey all heard within the piece, Mendelssohn and CPO bring musical magic to a famous Shakespeare play.
“It is unsurprising that A Midsummer Night’s Dream, like most of Shakespeare’s plays, has stood the test of time with its tale of quarrelling lovers and mistaken identities giving us such memorable lines as ‘The course of true love never did run smooth’ and ‘Lord! What fools these mortals be.’ In his score, Mendelssohn also sets some of Shakespeare’s passages to music for the voice and we were thrilled to be joined by two young, up-and-coming solo singers as well as the ladies of my choral group, VOX Cape Town, to contrast with instrumental movements such as the famous ‘Wedding March’ which everyone will recognise,” Woodland says.
In the pauses, Woodland rises up to a lectern on the side of the stage to perform a selection of passages from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, narrating key elements of Shakespeare’s work to accompany the music. His voice invites the audience to journey with the performers through the play, creating an immersive experience.
“One of the lines I recite is Titania’s reference to ‘the clamorous owl that nightly hoots and wonders / At our quaint spirits’. One of the singers in the ‘fairy choir’ mentioned that she actually heard an owl hooting in the trees above the stage during the performance, truly enhancing the magical feeling of the evening,” Woodland shares of the opening night.
And when the silence breaks, darkness has fallen over the city and the guests move out of the trees’ embrace, guided home by the twinkling lights.
Following on from the CPO’s performance, the Cape Town Opera will present Songs of Shakespeare on 26 and 28 January and Spirituals on 27 and 29 January. The famous annual Shakespeare production, this year of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, will run from 2 to 23 February followed by Cape Town City Ballet’s performance of Summersnow from 1 to 5 March.
“Like many others who have grown up in the Mother City, summer evenings spent under the stars at Maynardville are a fond memory for me and so it has been a wonderful privilege to be able to ‘give back’ through this collaborative production,” Woodland says.
“By supporting Maynardville, and the arts in general, we are able to support many of the Mother City’s finest and hardest-working artists. Attending these performances is an opportunity to celebrate the immense talent we have in South Africa.” DM/ML
Tickets for the Maynardville Open-Air Festival 2023 are available on Quicket.