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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