Monday, 1 January 2018

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Sat Dec 30, 2017 ***1/2

By William Shakespeare, Australian Shakespeare Company 
At Botanical Gardens, until March 3, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert  at preview on Dec 30, 2017 
Stars: ***1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Mon Jan 1, 2018, and in print later. KH
A Midsummer Night's Dream - James Biasetto as OBERON pic Nicole Cleary.jpg
It’s dusk on a summer’s evening in Melbourne’s mystically illuminated Botanical Gardens when the fairies come out to frolic and to taunt the hapless humans in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Do not be daunted by Shakespeare! Glenn Elston’s reimagined production, with its vibrantly lit trees, vivid costumes (Karla Erenbots), lively choreography (Sue-Ellen Shook), youthfully enthusiastic cast and naughty, modern quips, is an accessible and enchanting way to see Shakespeare’s clowns and fairies.

There are three threads to this mythical story set in Athens: four star-crossed lovers and their confused romances, five tradesmen (The Mechanicals) who rehearse an abysmal play, and the epic, romantic conflict between the Fairy King, Oberon, and his Queen, Titania.

James Biasetto is dignified and commanding as Oberon, and Anna Burgess is sensual and teasing as his Titania, while Benson Jack Anthony’s impish looks and acrobatic skill make him a mischievous Puck.

The four, aristocratic lovers, Hermia (Elizabeth Brennan), her beloved Lysander (Joshua Orpin), Helena (Madeleine Somers), and the target of Helena’s love, the unresponsive Demetrius (Ash Flanders), provide plenty of laughs as they bumble about in the forest, falling in and out of love with each other as Puck bewitches them with his rascally spells.

But what tickles the audience most is The Mechanicals’ appallingly amateurish but hilarious play – the tragedy of lovers, Pyramus and Thisbe – with Kevin Hopkins’ Bottom (Yes, plenty of cheeky references to ‘bottoms’) being a highlight with his oafish, ham acting and his braying when Puck turns him into a donkey.
A Midsummer Night's Dream - Kevin Hopkins as Bottom with Company pic Nicole Cleary
The Mechanicals’ other clown highlights include Flanders as Flute the bellows-mender prancing absurdly in a frock and brandishing his sword, Orpin as Snout the tinker leaping about like a ballerina, and Somers’ intentionally ill-timed roaring as the Lion.

For the audience perched on folding chairs and picnic rugs, sipping wine and tucking into gourmet snacks, The Dream is a playful, diverting night under the stars. But, take a coat because, even after a warm day, the Gardens can turn cold!

Kate Herbert reviewed a preview of the show on Dec 30, with the permission of the company.

By Kate Herbert
A Midsummer Night's Dream - Anna Burgess as TITANIA pic Nicole Cleary.

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