Tuesday, 9 January 2007

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Botanical Gardens, Jan 9, 2007

A Midsummer Night’s Dream 
by William Shakespeare
Australian Shakespeare Company
Where and When: Botanical Gardens Melbourne, Jan 9 to March 24, 2007

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

As happens every year, a very talented bat upstaged all the actors during A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Botanical Gardens. He flew smack dab into the arboreal backdrop of the stage carrying a length of thick rope. Bat bondage perhaps? Lassoing possums?

The idiosyncrasies of outdoor theatre were again revealed and Batboy was incorporated without fuss into the show by the wickedly impish Brendan O’Connor as Puck.

The Dream is always the most successful of Shakespeare’s plays in the Gardens. Its light romance suits the balmy summer evenings, the eerily lit happily replicates foliage the fairy dell and the rough comedy of the Mechanicals allows for playful improvisation and audience participation. I wouldn’t recommend the Scottish Play for the great outdoors.

This season, the hilarious Ross Williams returns as Bottom the egotistical Weaver and unwitting favourite of the Fairy Queen, Titania (Terry Brabon). Phil Cameron Smith, Anthony Rive, Kathryn Tohil and Adrian Dart accompany him in the amateur dramatic antics of the Mechanicals. Their performance for the Duke (Hugh Sexton) and his wife’s (Brabon) wedding is goofy and slapstick and much of their earlier interaction is bawdy with plenty of puns on “bottom”. (“Give it a crack, Bottom!”)

Brabon and Sexton are imposing as the Fairy Queen and King, Titania and Oberon. The interplay of magical lighting on the trees and some vocal distortion as they weave their spells created an ethereal atmosphere. Three acrobatic fairies (O’Connor, Ben Leeks, Josephine Torissi) add a touch of physical enchantment.

The scenes with the lovers lost in the woods are playful but sometimes a little over-embellished with contemporary detail or exposition.

Gemma Bishop is bright and energetic as both Hermia and a wacked out, giggling fairy. Tohil is charming as the klutzy Helena and the dim-witted Snug. Rive and Cameron-Smith make the rivalry between Lysander and Demetrius a blokey battle of fisticuffs rather than wits and Rive’s girlish Thisbe is a funny drag act.

All the actors are miked, overcoming one of the nightmares of outdoor theatre – audibility. The audience is delighted, as ever, with the opportunity to be entertained on a warm night in the beautiful surroundings. It is always fun, particularly with a picnic basket and a bottle of wine.

By Kate Herbert

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