In what has become a summer tradition in Melbourne, the Australian Shakespeare Company returns to the Royal Botanic Gardens for their 35th season of Shakespeare under the stars. For over three decades Glenn Elston OAM and his troupe of actors, acrobats, dancers and musicians have delighted audiences as they picnic in the scenic gardens at sunset.
It’s a risky business holding an outdoor event in Melbourne’s alleged “summer”, but the weather gods remained kind and the evening’s entertainment went off without a hitch. For the 23/2024 season, the classic rom-com of A Midsummer Night’s Dream played out for audiences across the lawn in a lively and joyous manner.
The story weaves through the mortal world with an assortment of actors mid-rehearsal who set the tone of mayhem. Both Madeline Somers as Peter Quince and Elizabeth Brennan as Bottom are standouts with their precise comedic timing and delivery. Also in the mortal realm are the four mismatched lovers, Helena (Larissa Teale), Hermia (Olivia McLeod), Demetrius (Tane Williams), and Lysander (Alex Cooper), who plan to escape into the forest; Hermia to be with her love Lysander, Demetrius to follow his betrothed bride Hermia, and Helena, obsessively following her beloved Demetrius. If it sounds confusing, you’re right, it is.
Shakespeare loved to play with the idea of disguise, mistaken identity and unrequited love. While A Midsummer Night’s Dream doesn’t end in tragedy like Romeo and Juliet, it does take elements from other works, working them more comedically into the narrative. A Midsummer Night’s Dream also brings in the element of magic, taking the audience from the human world where actors bicker and lovers quarrel into the fairy world, where kings and queens argue, and disagreements are solved with enchantments and trickery.
This is the world of Oberon (Hugh Sexton) and Titania (Nicole Nabout) who bring their palpable chemistry and incredible style to the stage. Oberon sends his mischievous fairy Puck (Syd Brisbane), into the forest to find a flower to enchant the sleeping Titania to fall in love with the first living creature she sees. To increase Titania’s humiliation Puck turns the actor Bottom into a donkey, sending him into Titania’s path where she falls hopelessly in love.
Not content with this, Oberon and Puck meddle in the lives of the four mortals, but mistakes are made and both Lysander and Demetrius fall in love with Helena leaving Hermia distraught and confused. It’s a slapstick comedic affair with the four lovers dashing to and fro across the stage and both Lysander and Demetrius going to great lengths to one-up each other.
Larissa Teale as the hopelessly and haplessly in love Hermia strikes the balance between the ridiculous and the heartbreaking. It is a hilariously vulnerable performance that makes use of the stage and brings new aspects to the character. Paired with Olivia McLeod as Hermia, the two are well-matched performers with a clear and nuanced understanding of the text.
The fairies of the magical forest provide glittering moments, lighting up the stage with acrobatics and humour but never overshadowing the main action. It is an incredibly strong ensemble cast and there was not a weak performance or moment throughout.
Glenn Elston’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a captivating and charming production. It blends magic and mortals, love and humour in a whimsical show that is nothing short of delightful.
Australian Shakespeare Company presents
A Midsummer Night's Dream
by William Shakespeare
Director Glenn Elston OAM
Venue: Royal Botanic Gardens | Southern Cross Lawn, 100 Birdwood Avenue, South Yarra VIC
Dates: 16 December 2023 – 17 February 2024
Tickets: $99 – $25
Bookings: 03 8676 7511 | shakespeareaustralia.com.au