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Amazons and mechanicals

The “mechanicals”, a group of labourers in rehearsal for a play to be performed within Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, has long had the potential to be reinterpreted for a stand-alone play.

With her satire, Revenge of Amazons, New Zealand playwright, actor and director Jean Betts has done just that, and now Unity Theatre is soon to hold auditions in a quest for five male and 12 female actors.

The mechanicals in Shakespeare’s play are amateur and mostly incompetent actors who come together to stage a play for the royalty of Athens. Cast members are Quince, the carpenter; Snug, the joiner; Bottom, the weaver; Flute, the bellows-mender; Snout, the tinker; and Starveling the tailor. In Bett’s play, the mechanicals make up a female theatre troupe known as the Fallopian Thespians.

“It’s kind of a feminist statement but it is very out there,” says director Michelle Hall.

“The play draws on the myths of the Amazons who were anti-men. If a male child was born they gave it away. They only brought men in to service their needs.”

Male cast members can expect to play the fairies and can expect not to be treated well by the Amazons who plan to stage the play about how bad men are to women, says Hall.

“It’s so ridiculous; it’s like, ‘who would treat men like that?’ But then it goes into a fantasy world.”

The general plot of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is still much the same, writes blogger Samyson Aguilera. There are a few adjustments though.

Betts has swapped the plot line around fairy king Oberon and fairy queen Titania, to make Oberon the cheating king, and Titania the scorned lover who employs magic to win her love back. Puck and Peaseblossom are made female characters, and the mechanicals, the Fallopian Thespians, are a feminist organisation whose purpose is to break up the wedding of amazon queen Hippolyta and Theseus, the duke of Athens.

Sick of being cheated on by Oberon, Titania employs her fairy servant, Puck, to find a love potion.

“Before she returns with the love potion, Titania sees Helena trying to convince Demetrius to love her. Her attempt fails, so Titania decides to intervene and sends Puck to cast a spell on Demetrius to make him fall in love with the poor girl. Titania also casts a spell on Oberon so he falls in love with the most hideous thing he sees when he first wakes.

“Meanwhile, the feminist theatre group — The Fallopian Thespians — are rehearsing close to Oberon’s ‘flowery bed’. Puck finds them, and finds interest in the leading lady, Barbara. She bewitches her and transforms her into a bunny outfit. Then Oberon wakes up and falls madly in love with her, although she is barely interested and he feels tortured by her. Titania offers to break him free of the curse if he agrees to promise her ‘fidelity, for ever more’.”

Revenge is said to respond to the treatment of women in Shakespeare’s play, and how women in New Zealand were viewed in the early 1980s. The play explodes with energy as it turns Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream into a 1970s re-working of it set in Antipodea, says one reviewer.

“(It’s) where Puck pours magical rata juice of the northern kind into the lovers’ eyes and the Fallopian Thespians rehearse in the bush because the Aro Street Hall is unavailable.

“Jean Betts’ comedy is not another feminist tract beating us over the head about the awfulness of men, but it is, at heart, a plea for men and women to realise what life could be like for all if only we respected each other’s individuality.”

Auditions for Unity Theatre’s production of Revenge of Amazons will be held at the theatre on Ormond Road on Saturday, February 20 at 3pm.

OUT THERE: The sort of caper seen in Otto van Veen 1629 painting Amazons and Scythians is unlikely to be seen in Unity Theatre’s production of the satire Revenge of Amazons, New Zealand playwright Jean Betts’ comic twist, with a feminist flavour, on Shakespeare’s rom-com, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In Greek mythology, the Amazons were a society of female warriors and hunters closed to men. They only raised their daughters and either killed their sons or returned them to their fathers, with whom they would only socialise briefly in order to reproduce. Picture supplied