U of C production of The Fairy Queen an operatic endeavour of absurd(ist) proportions

Theatre writer Caroline Russell-King offers her Postcard Review of the current operatic production at the University of Calgary, The Fairy Queen.

Show: The Fairy Queen.

Playwright/composer: A creation based loosely on Henry Purcell’s semi-opera which in turn was an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream by an anonymous author.

Company/Theatre: The Division of Drama at the School of Creative and Performing Arts, University Theatre.

Length: One act (85 minutes, no intermission).

Genre(s): An absurdist opera (with choral work, dance/movement and reworked opera lyrics).

Premise: A contemporary/post-apocalyptic youthful tribe (in the prerequisite tea-stained, frayed costumes) explore politics, climate crisis, animal rights, capitalism, shipping et al. 

Why this play? Why now?: A living example of the mandate of the U of C: “What happens when you collide three disciplines onstage” — dance, music and drama.

Curiosities: What would this look like with a playwright or librettist? This piece took one conductor, three directors, two assistant directors, two stage managers, seven assistants, 11 musicians, a crew of 15, and a cast of 33 … Will this be a post-grad culture shock for the “real” world? Why do some singers hide behind walls of hair? When will we move past the written warnings posted for the fragile? Why are we warning people against, “Political views, mature content and violence?”

Notable moment: The comic scene sung between sparring crossdressers. 

Notable writing: The only writing credit is in the form of the Devising Sonnet Dramaturge Julie-Anne Bolduc. The music was excellent as was the playing of it.

Notable performance: Since the ensemble wasn’t given bios or photo credits in the program, I’m honestly not sure which of the 33 were the performers who stood out from the pack and managed to find authentic moments in a piece rife with emoting, earnest teens.

Notable design: Set and props designer Britt Van Groningen and director Peter Balkwill gave us an oversized golden toilet on a plinth altar that vomited up various props in the form of party favours, haze, confetti, pool noodles, a present and a balloon.

Notable direction: Balkwill from Old Trout Puppet Workshop fame worked in consortium with co-directors Melanie Kloetzel (dance) and Laura Hynes (music).

One reason to see this show: Since this was the week that Cowtown Opera closed its doors, should you be seeking an alternate opera fix, this production is for you.

The Fairy Queen runs Thursday, Feb. 13 and Friday, Feb. 14 at 7 p.m. at the University Theatre.

Caroline Russell-King is a playwright, dramaturg, and instructor. She is a member of The Playwrights Guild of Canada, the Dramatist Guild of America and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You can find her work here at