A Mid-Autumn Night’s Frenzy Of Laughter And Joy

A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream Rating

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Often, the idea of seeing a Shakespearian play conjures up similarities to visiting the opera, symphony, or ballet. There’s a stigma of intelligence, stuffiness, sophistication, and class. You don’t normally consider Macbeth or Hamlet a fun night out with the family. But Shakespeare wrote his plays for everyone, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream was always meant to be a fun comedy, not some academic undertaking. This performance by the Australian Shakespeare Company maintains that tradition while celebrating its 35th year.

I thought about this perception of Shakespeare as I crouched down into my low-rise chair on the lawn, wine in hand, and stared at the empty stage in front of me. The air was cool, and the sky was clear. Behind the stage, the trees of Centennial Park were lit up to form the perfect backdrop to this magical play.

I initially felt a little let down, expecting a more elaborate set-up for a larger, more spectacular show, making the most of the location amongst the trees. Instead, I looked up at a raised stage with a few stairs dressed up with vines and leaves. Then, all of a sudden, a golf cart-style greenskeeper vehicle raced up a ramp onto the stage, and the Athenian players, modernised for contemporary times, burst into a frenzy of audience announcements mixed with their planning of a play within the play. It set the tone well, and the couple beside me were immediately in hysterics. But I needed a bit more warming up, and so I sipped my wine cautiously as the story began…

The energy was electric, and the play moved along at a rapid but carefully controlled pace. Modern humour was added throughout the classic dialogue, which flowed along seamlessly. This helped to keep a well-worn play fresh and entertaining while staying true to the original material. Most of this came through the Athenian players, but even our lovers had plenty of modern quips and references that never felt intrusive or disrespectful.

The soundtrack cleverly used well-known tracks that often triggered the audience to sing along. There was a Taylor Swift Eras Tour joke at one point because even Shakespeare can’t escape her orbit. All around me, groups of friends, partners, and colleagues were turning to each other and gasping, ‘This is so amazing! How good is this!’

The cast gave it their all, sometimes a bit too much, with only one scene becoming a bit hyperactive. The humour was often cartoonish, in a good way, with body language replicating characters from Loony Tunes cartoons, such as the love-sick Lysander and Demetrius floating along on Tiptoes after Helena. You’ll know it when you see it. This cartoonish energy worked well with the fantasy feel of the play. While the Greek lovers, players and Aristocracy were dressed in what seemed like 1990s-inspired suits, dresses and overalls, our fairy kingdom was wisely kept fantastical.

The audience became more vocal as the play progressed, and the wine flowed. The performers all encourage cheers, laughs, clapping, and whooping. When Oberon’s coat was caught on a trapdoor on his way onto the stage, Hugh Sexton broke character and declared to the crowd ‘what an entrance!’ to which they cheered and clapped. The whole point of the play, and the way it’s delivered, is to have a great time.

Once the lover’s quarrel is resolved and the wedding takes place, the Athenian players take to the stage within the stage.
That’s when the whole performance goes into manic overdrive. Layer upon layer of humour and inventiveness energised the audience. Details like the ‘director’ mimicking the actor’s performances, the reactions of Theseus and Hippolyta, actors not in the central performance, adding a few jokes, there was always something going on.

And when it was all finally over, I didn’t mind that my initial expectations of some visual spectacular had not been met. The staging was subdued, and I was disappointed that the big fog cannons and fireworks only came on at the end, but something even better happened. I left with a smile on my face.

I’m not sure what a serious Shakespearian scholar would think of this performance. I hope they simply had a great time, along with all the other adults, young kids, and even middle-aged kids like me. So, if you want a god-natured fun night out with a lot of laughs, be sure to get there while you can. And don’t forget to bring some nibblies and a blanket, because the weather is starting to turn cold out there.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream Under the Stars is playing at the Centennial Park Belvedere amphitheatre until the 28th of April, with a range of ticket prices to suit your budget.

This review also appears on It’s On The House. Check out more reviews at Whats The Show to see what else is on in your town.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Merrigong Theatre Company’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ opening night in the Wollongong Botanic Gardens was a huge success.

This Shakespearean classic was adapted by Danielle King and directed by Merrigong Theatre Company’s Artistic Development Manager, Leland Keane. The careful blend of traditional Shakespearian language mixed with modern-day coarse language, with the ingenious idea of using the names of the Illawarra suburbs, amplified the humour and the audience’s engagement with the dialogue.

The players were engaging with the audience from before the get-go, embracing their roles not only on the stage but also whilst onlookers were still filing in to find their space.

The ‘Intern’, played by Charlotte Dickinson, paraded around asking audience members what the difference was between an internship and work experience. Bradley Ward, doubling as the H&S Manager responsible for overseeing ‘Safety and traffic’, demanded to know if we were following the rules. John Michael Narres, playing Bottom, started a ‘Woo-off’ with the different sides of the audience, using his selfie stick to record both before and during the performance.

Then, the real action began, and the backdrop for the play was absolutely stunning. We were blessed with a beautiful, clear night and a gorgeous sunset as a backdrop for the first act. Be sure to pack a jacket or a blanket, as it does get a little chilly once the sun has gone.

Given the outdoor setting, the actors did an incredible job at projecting and ensuring they were engaged with and speaking to all the different sections of the audience at different times. No one side or group in the audience was left perpetually straining to hear which can sometimes be the case in an outdoor setting.

The musical interludes and summaries by composer Kay Proudlove were both comedic and insightful, particularly if you were unsure about specific plot points that had just occurred. There were a few very rare moments where the music and the amplification of her voice overpowered the actors, depending on where you were sitting and where they were speaking from.

A commendation must be given to the costume designer Katja Handt for the incredible outfits of the fairies, Queen Titania, Oberon, and, in particular, Puck. The colour scheme of the white outfits of the mortals compared to the bright, earthy colours of the fairies was a great visual representation of the characters, particularly with the cast who played multiple mortal and fairy characters.

The technical element of Bottom’s transition between man and Donkey is always a thorny one to portray, particularly when the stage is an outdoor setting, but I am pleased to say that this was accomplished incredibly well. The scaffolding of the donkey head, along with the dual-purpose tail and whip, was a brilliant interpretation and complemented the lighting design beautifully.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream features an all-star cast and runs from Thursday to Sunday until November 26th at the Turpentine Lawn in the Wollongong Botanical Gardens. This was a wonderful experience and an adaption that will surely delight locals and visitors alike.

Shakespeare in the Garden – A Midsummer Night’s Dream

When: 9 to 26 November 2023
Times: Thu – Sun 7 pm
Where: Turpentine Lawn – Wollongong Botanic Garden
Performance Warnings: Ages 10+

Tickets: Fri & Sat – Adult: $59, Under 30s: $49, Pensioner/Student/Groups 8+: $54, Family of 4: $196, Sun-Thu – Adult: $49, Under 30s: $39, Pensioner/Student/Groups 8+: $44, Family of 4: $156, School Groups 8+: $23

Bookings: https://merrigong.com.au/shows/shakespeare-in-the-garden-a-midsummer-nights-dream/

Accessibility: Shakespeare in the Garden – A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an accessible event for all to enjoy. Please refere to the Box Office on 4224 5999 for details.

This review also appears on It’s On The House, and check out more reviews at Dark Stories Theatre Reviews to see what else is on in your town.