REVIEW: Shakespeare in the Gardens with MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

Lost in the Dream

By Warwick Moffat

A Midsummer Night's Dream - Mustard Seed (Mia Landgren) and Puck (Arky Elston)

The evening had three elements. Firstly, the Melbourne Royal Botanical Gardens at night, as ushers spotted spaces amongst fellow revellers where your own blanket might rest. For those bodies (like mine) which strain when too far removed from modernity, chairs are for hire. It was a welcome respite from the working day. Secondly, there is the play. It was declared that we were there to be entertained and every effort was made to ensure we were. The efforts of the cast and crew were expertly directed by Glenn Elston; the audience appeared truly lost in the world created for them.

Thirdly, and for me this was the most memorable element, every opportunity was taken to use the garden to highlight the play’s key themes. Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream warns of how natural forces can influence human passion and endeavour. The slight and thankfully brief evening shower seemed to be Nature’s own foreword. When Titania (Shireen Morris) bellowed her intent to utilise the wind, the weather even obliged on cue and Morris’s performance as the fairy queen deserved this compliment.

The setting and performances skilfully brought out the animalism within this comedy, where other companies have sadly missed it. Impressive acrobatics (especially Tamika Ball and Liam DeJong), and dance impressed upon us the wildness and sensuality of the woods inhabitants. When the Athenians entered this world, it magnified their all-too-human qualities and made their descent under Puck’s (Arky Elston) bungled spells all the more believable. When the lightshow, the trees and the music of Paul Norton combined during the casting of spells, I became overwhelmed by this realm where natural forces and human intent meet. Elston made Shakespeare’s trickster his own, through physical comedy and a distinct Gen-Y sensibility.

The tradesmen were excellent (Hugh Sexton, Simon Mallory, Ross Williams, Kevin Hopkins and Anthony Rive). Any clown can be silly: these clowns had a depth of character that left the audience laughing but also empathising with their faults. Mallory’s Bottom was not just an Ass; he was a brilliantly cringe-worthy ham, whose need for approval left you wanting to organise a group hug. William’s Snug gets my vote overall, so frustratingly dense and yet so sweet that you would never dare yell at him. That being said, the entire cast performed with flair and enthusiasm.

The Australian Shakespeare Company delivers Dream with the maturity of a troupe who are, after all, celebrating their twenty-fifth year in the Gardens. This comic spectacle has a vitality which comes with never taking your audience for granted.

Dates: 21 Dec 2013 – 15 Mar 2014.

Location: Southern Cross Lawn, Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne. Enter through Observatory Gate on Birdwood Ave. Gates open 90 minutes prior.

Times (for Feb 11 2014 to Mar 15 2014): Tue to Sat at 8pm.

Tickets: $25-$45

Bookings: 03 8676 7511 or or Ticketmaster 136 100.

What to bring: Pack a picnic, a blanket or cushions to sit on and insect repellent.