If there was a Shakespeare play that would be perfect for a performance outdoors at Melbourne’s Royal Botanical Gardens, it would be A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This is Shakespeare’s most magical work, set mostly in a forest in Athens, where fairies cause mischief and toy with the emotions of four lovesick youths.
If one was looking for the ideal introduction to William Shakespeare, then this would be my recommendation. Australian Shakespeare Company’s production may also be one of the most enjoyable productions of this play that I have ever seen.
Directed by Glenn Elston, the cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream are faultless, as is the production. Its cast even take on multiple roles.
The story begins with a group of Athenian tradesmen and wannabe performance group, The Mechanicals, led by Peter Quince, followed by an often scene stealing Madeleine Somers, preparing for the wedding of Theseus, the Duke of Athens (Hugh Sexton) and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (Nicole Nabout).
The quintet had the audience in fits of laughter, breaking the fourth wall. The Queen of the fairies, Titania (Nicole Nabout) is meanwhile feuding with her husband Oberon (Hugh Sexton) about the fate of a young Indian prince that has been given to her. The main intermediary for the two previously mentioned plot lines is Puck (Syd Brisbane).
I’ve had experiences when seeing Shakespeare performances that many struggle with the language and poetry. This sprinkling of modern language within this original play is one aspect that I loved about this production. The way that director, Glenn Elston OAM, has made the decision to faithfully adapt Shakespeare and incorporate anachronisms that don’t take the audience out of the production, made me eat it up. The costuming by Karla Erenbots is another wonderful example, no togas or the same overused ‘historically accurate’ costume. What’s used here are inventive costumes suitable for each character’s personality, so you don’t question why they feel historically misplaced.
Quickly mention about what is offered for attending patrons, the Australian Shakespeare website recommends bringing blankets or seats if you’re in the general admission area. There are chairs available for hire, but these seemed to be taken quickly during my attendance, so bringing your own may be the best option if you think sitting on a blanket for the 2 and a half hours run time will grow uncomfortable.
The food options available are limited to chips and chocolates. I neglected to bring my own food and regretted it once I saw the charcuterie boards that other audience members brought in with them. There are tickets with seating available but a general admission ticket still offers a great view of the stage, although I would highly recommend bringing your own seating and food with you.
A Midsummers Night Dream ends on ‘The Tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe’ by The Mechanicals and I haven’t laughed so hard at a theatre show in a long time. Every actor here is perfection, Jackson McGovern stood out with his portrayal as Francis Flute, cast as Thisbe. Every laugh from the audience gave McGovern that extra push to gain more laughter from the audience.
Speaking of standout performances, Hugh Sexton is an actor I would put forward to portray Frank N Furter in Rocky Horror, the sexuality, charisma, and commanding stage presence was enough to see why he was cast as a Duke and King of the fairies, obvious too, why audience members were talking about how much they had fallen in love with him. I know I mentioned Syd Brisbane briefly before, but I must mention about their astounding performance, Puck is a tricky character to take on. His mischievous nature can easily be seen as cruel, but Brisbane masterfully plays Puck as Shakespeare would have intended, leaving the audience unable to stop talking about him.
The amount of care and passion that has gone into this Australian Shakespeare production is undeniable, with the actors showcasing some of the best portrayals I’ve seen of these complex characters. What audiences are treated to at the end is what you would expect from fairy magic. You might be a little bit startled at first, so I’ll give you a jump scare warning, but you’ll forgive everything because of how magical the last moments feel.
As an experience, Shakespeare Under the Stars is an institution for a reason.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Under the Stars is now playing at Royal Botanical Gardens Melbourne – Southern Cross Lawn until February 17th 2024.
For more information and ticketing, visit:
Photography by Ben Fon.