A Midsummer Night's Dream

The Royal Botanic Gardens is the perfect setting for this delightful production of one of the Bard’s most-loved works.
A Midsummer Night's Dream

The Australian Shakespeare Company celebrates the 25th anniversary of Shakespeare Under The Stars with this delightful production of one of the Bard’s most-loved works, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Set in the court of Athens, the play follows the fate of four young lovers whose fortunes are changed when they stumble across the fairy kingdom. Hermia and Lysander, denied marriage by Hermia’s father, elope into the woods only to fall under the spell of the Fairy King, Oberon, who weaves a tangled web between them and their love rivals, Helena and Lysander.  Meanwhile, a group of tradesmen preparing a play to perform for the Duke, also experience the handiwork of the fairies when their star, Bottom the Weaver, has his head transformed into that of a beast and finds himself desired by the Fairy Queen, Titania. The fairies delight in making their mischief but will they undo it in time for each character to embark upon their right course?

Set amongst the splendid backdrop of Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens, A Midsummer Night’s Dream perfectly lends itself to the surroundings. It could even be argued that it is Shakespeare’s best-suited play for such an arena. Surrounded by grass, trees and the odd bat flying overhead, one need not imagine the forest setting, for the audience is already literally transported into the middle of one. Even the occasional police siren from St Kilda Road cannot break the illusion, nor diminish the joy of seeing this play in such a beautiful and fitting environment.

While attempts at Shakespearean comedy often miss their mark, director Glenn Elston has tapped into the heart of this play’s hilarity and misadventure, creating a performance that has the audience laughing out loud throughout the evening. Using physical comedy and clowning techniques, Elston draws out the best of the humour within the text and enables the strong cast to play to the strengths of Shakespeare’s writing. The script has also been slightly modified, staying true to the original words while adding in a few contemporary references and modern humour, which only serves to add to the audience’s laughter. Impressive acrobatics from actors Liam De Jong and Tamika Ball also contribute to the physical element of this performance, making it highly watchable and entertaining.

Elston has cleverly cast a range of talent in this production, from the young actors playing the lovers, to the slightly older troupe of Bottom and the tradesmen. The young lovers do an admirable job of competing for one another’s affections, with much comedy coming from the performances of Scott Jackson as Demetrius and Otis Elston as Lysander. The tradesmen also put on an especially entertaining performance, with Ross Williams as Snug generating many laughs performing the lion. Simon Mallory is also noteworthy as Bottom, in a role that can make or break this play, he performs the character with the perfect balance of comedy and light-heartedness, keeping the audience on his side and avoiding the extreme foolishness that can often plague the character. In turn, the fairy kingdom also maintains the strength of the production, with an impressive performance from Arky Elston as Puck and strong physical support from the various members of the fairy cast. 

The show is a remarkably easy two and a half hours long and runs until the 15th March. There is no formal seating but theatre goers can bring a rug and find a comfortable spot on the grass. Low-level chairs are also available to hire on site for $5 and drinks and snacks can be purchased in the interval at a small kiosk (both cash only). With Melbourne’s unpredictable weather and tendency to change temperature quickly, some warm clothes, a blanket and perhaps even an umbrella are highly recommended. Food and alcohol are also allowed, so bring a bottle and a picnic and settle down under the stars for a highly entertaining night that will have you laughing all the way home. 

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The Australian Shakespeare Company
Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Glenn Elston
Musical Director: Paul Norton
Choreographer: Sue-Ellen Shook
Costume Designer: Jess Bosnic
Production Manager: Ashley Groenen
Production Co-ordinator: Kaspa Elston
Stage Manager: Luke Hales
Lighting Operator: Peter Amesbury
Sound Operator: Shaye Davitt
Costume Supervisor: Stella Cadzow
Costume Makers: Janine Box, Breanna Handfield & Erin Wilson
Administration Manager: Dominic Holden
Box Office: Kate Halmos & Michael Beer
Graphic Design: designjunkies.co
Cast: Tamika Ball, Liam DeJong, Otis Elston, Arky Elston, Madeleine Field, Kevin Hopkins, Scott Jackson, Mia Landgren, Simon Mallory, Shireen Morris, Claire Nicholls, Anthony Rive, Hugh Sexton, Charlie Sturgeon & Ross Williams

Royal Botanic Gardens, Observatory Gate, South Yarra
21 December – 15 March

Jennifer Penton

Monday 20 January, 2014

About the author

Jennifer Penton is a Brisbane-based reviewer for ArtsHub.