THE AGE – 5 January 2010, Michelle Hamer
A Midsummer Night's Dream
It feels as if we're camping, perched on low chairs in the grass, drinks and dips balanced on our knees and blankets wrapped snugly around us. Bats glide past the stars and the lights of Melbourne glimmer through a thick screen of elms. It's a fitting backdrop to Shakespeare's whimsical A Midsummer Night's Dream in the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Some of the cast are serving drinks from an on-site caravan; there's clearly no room to be precious in this production.
As Puck shrieks and tumbles past us onto the stage, Oberon incants a spell and the trees behind him shimmer in dazzling purple light.
Fairies and sprites spill joyfully from the trees in impressive acrobatic displays. Titania, the simmering queen of the fairies, is bewitched by an ass, and Bottom the Weaver steals the show with his madcap antics (and plenty of bottom humour).
The Australian Shakespeare Company (ASC) production, directed by Glenn Elston, modernises Shakespeare's prose and production with contemporary costumes and effects. The fairy cast have an ethereal, other-world quality that fits well in this outdoor arena.
The Bard's verses are peppered with clever contemporary references, jokes and songs to make the play more accessible to a wider audience. Apart from one boisterous (and amusing) request for cake mid-production, the small kids in front of us are bewitched by the action.
The production is high-energy, often hilarious and a rich celebration of life. We are laid-back and relaxed, revelling in the liberties the ASC has taken with Shakespeare's work - freeing it from the constraints of stuffy respectability and displaying childlike pleasure in the ensuing rumpus.
But there are still moments of pure Shakespearean theatre, when his rich language reverberates through the still night, electrifying the atmosphere.
An interval to seek hot drinks allows us to warm up and stretch our joints. I wonder if the ''Puck Off'' souvenir T-shirts are taking the popularising of the Bard too far … or maybe I'm just uptight?
Melbourne's summer is so fickle that we are chilly and rugged up. Come prepared for all eventualities. Most people have brought picnic baskets and rugs. We hire our chairs for $5 each, and notice that several people have booked hampers.
This year marks the 21st anniversary of the ASC's production of Shakespeare Under the Stars in the Royal Botanic Gardens. The company has brought a range of Shakespeare to the Botanic Gardens in the past two decades and is also performing Wind in the Willows in the garden until January 30.
THE AGE – 13 January 2007, Bill Perrett
Hermia’s father was renting out chairs before the show, and I’m Pretty certain there were two fairies on the St Kilda tram afterwards. The Annual Shakespeare in the Botanic Gardens has a truly local, popular feel to it. It’s anything but the high-cultural artefact that causes too many high school students to experience equal measures of boredom and terror.
The reasons have partly to do with the setting, which removes the production from formal expectations of a theatre and gives it a holiday atmosphere. Partly, it’s the contemporary pop-cultural references – bits of rap, songs, jokes (including a fair number of Bottom gags) – and partly a marvellously eclectic look that sees Helena (Kathryn Tohil) dressed in a netball uniform, Demetrius (Anthony Rive) in a mauve safari suit and Oberon (Hugh Sexton) like a refugee from the set of The Lord of the Rings. There’s also a lot of excellent energetic physical business; the acro-fairies are apparently equipped with anti-grav, and the stage-struck artisans perform some classic ensemble bits with a strong vaudeville flavour.
All the principals – Gemma Bishop as Hermia, Terri Brabon as Titania and Hippolyta, Phil Cameron-Smith as Lysander and Tom Snout, as well as the aforementioned fairies and lovers – look good, act well and are very funny. But, of course, there’s no show without Puck or, for that matter, Bottom. Ross Williams makes a fine, gruff Waver, whose indefatigable self-assurance stands him in good stead when he performs for royalty, whether it be human or fairy. And there can’t have been many more wired or puckish Robin Goodfellows than Brendan O’Connor. Both are outstanding performances.
There are, no doubt, purists who get a little sniffy at populist productions like this one that tinker with the sacred Bardic texts, but the hell with them. This production is true to Shakespeare’s language and the spirit of the play. Take some food and drink and maybe even a disaffected middle-school inmate or two.
HERALD SUN – 14 January 2007, Kate Herbert
As happens every year, a very talented bat upstaged all the actors during A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the gardens.
It 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.
Of all Shakespeare’s plays transported to a garden setting, Dream is always the most successful. Its light romance suits the balmy evenings, the eerily lit foliage happily replicates the fair 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 (Terri Brabon).
Phil Cameron-Smith, Anthony Rive, Kathryn Tohil and Adrian Dart accompany him in the amateur dramatic antics of the Mechanicals. Their performance at the wedding of the Duck (Hugh Sexton) and his wife (Brabon) is goofy and slapstick and much of their earlier interaction is bawdy with plenty of backside puns. (Give is 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 ditsy 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, to be entertained on a warm night in the beautiful surroundings.
Dream is always fun, particularly with a well-stocked picnic basket.
SUNDAY HERALD SUN – 14 January 2007, Kate Rose
The Australian Shakespeare Company’s outdoor performances have become a kind of extreme theatre, prepared to stare down every vagary – from Melbourne’s weather to the ablutional habits of possums.
It’s a credit to the cast of mostly familiar faces that they come back year after year with the same enthusiasm.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is also a perfect play for the Royal Botanic Gardens, set as it is predominantly in the fairy kingdom of Oberon (Hugh Sexton) and Titania (Terri Brabon).
Helena (Kathryn Tohil) loves Demetrius (Anthony Rive), who loves Hermia (Gemma Bishop), who loves Lysander (Phil Cameron-Smith), who loves Hermia back, who has been promised by her father to Demetrius, who was engaged to Helena before he dumped her for Hermia. Phew.
But because this is Shakespeare, and it would be a very short play if it all ran smoothly, Hermia is given a choice by the Duke of Athens – obey her father and marry Demetrius, join a nunnery or die. She is given three days to decide, but instead she and Lysander take to the woods and plan to marry once outside the reach of Athenian law.
Demetrius takes after them and Helena after him. Little do they know the woods are the realm of the fairies and they have stumbled into the middle of a spat between king Oberon and his queen, Titania.
Like most of the ASC’s adaptations of Shakespeare, this is full of pop culture references, audience interaction and visual gags.
It cleverly attains the perfect balance between loyalty to the play and modern additions to make it readily accessible.
Brendan O’Connor’s Puck brings a brilliantly athletic level of vaudeville to the show, while Ross Williams’ Bottom is the perfect ham.
The cast delivers infectious levels of glee, capturing the spirit of Shakespeare as it was intended – not as high theatre, but as bawdy public entertainment.
THE SUNDAY AGE – 19 JANUARY 2003, Steven Carroll
Shakespeare in the Botanic Gardens is now a fixture event in summer. This production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Glenn Elston, transforms the park into a wonderland. The larrikin fun, the playful approach to the text, the contemporary quips, are all there in this highly entertaining, populist rendition of Shakespeare.
It’s one of those all’s-well-that-ends-well plots. Theseus, Duke of Athens (Kevin Hopkins) is marrying Hippolyta (Kate Langworthy), but at the same time has his problem sorting out the fate of Hermia (Marisa Warrington) who loves Lysander (Anthony Rive) but has been promised to Demetrius (Philip Cameron-Smith) – who in turn is being amorously pursued by Helena (Clare Danaher). To escape their fate Hermia and Lysander elope to the woods, which, as you would expect, are enchanted. The goblin Puck (Brendan O’Connor), King of the Fairies, Oberon (Hopkins), Titania (Langworthy), Queen of the Fairies, as well as her various attendants, are all quarreling. Magic spells are thrown around like confetti. Titania falls in love with Bottom (Ross Williams), one of a group of amateur actors preparing to stage a show for the wedding celebration of the King and Queen. Needless to say, things become terribly confused.
It’s a robust ensemble performance, the acrobatics are impressive as is the lighting. The Mechanicals play goes on a bit long, but it’s a fun production that is both modern in costume and attitude, yet which borrows from traditional sources such as panto, vaudeville and slap-stick.
THE SUNDAY AGE – 9 JANUARY 2000, Steve Carroll
If you go down to the woods tonight, you’re in for a Bard surprise
The play might be called A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but it felt more like a midwinter night at last Thursday’s opening-night. Yet even in the cold, this Glenn Elston-directed production works like a charm. When the weather warms up it will make a highly entertaining, festive evening in the Botanic Gardens.
The Dream was Elston’s first venture into Shakespeare and after staging Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing he has returned to it.
This is a superior production, mostly because it’s far more compact and the direction is tight. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of knockabout fun as well, for the trademark of these open-air summer productions has always been that mix of farce and pantomime that they bring to the sacred texts of the Bard.
Another key factor in the success of this production is the casting of a bunch of local comedians in key roles. The strategy could have fallen flat on its face, but the cast not only put in disciplined performances, they look like they’re having a lot of fun as well.
The tale, which takes place in Athens, is one of tangled loves and magic-potions. The Duke of Athens, Theseus (Stephen Kearney), is arranging his marriage to Hippolyta (Tanya Burne), Queen of the Amazons, whom he has just defeated in battle. But first he has to judge a matrimonial dispute. Egeus (Phil Sumner) wants his daughter Hermia (Kate Atkinson) to marry Demetrius (Greg Fleet), but she wants to marry Lysander (Wil Anderson). Egeus claims Lysander has bewitched his daughter and, in accordance with ancient Athenian law, demands that unless she complies with her father’s wishes and married Demetrius, she must die or become a nun.
After briefly considering their options, Hermia and Lysander elope to the nearby woods, but not before disclosing their plans to her childhood friend Helena (Corrine Grant), who is in love with Demetrius. Meanwhile, a bunch of tradesmen, referred to as the mechanicals, are rehearsing a show for the Duke’s marriage. Like all amateur theatricals they have their ham, in this case Bottom (Kevin Harrington).
The course of true love may not run smooth as Lysander notes, but neither do Shakespearean plots, for in the woods the lovers fall under the spell cast by Oberon (Kearney again) who is both King of the Fairies and in dispute with Titania (Burne), Queen of the Fairies. Puck (Brendan O’Connor), Oberon’s right-hand sprite, not only gets up to a bit of mischief but also blunders in his application of magic potions. The result is classic Shakespearean mayhem.
Unlike earlier productions of the Dream, which took in different parts of the gardens, this one all takes place on the same stage. This not only saves a lot of time it also means the actors are wired for sound and don’t have to compete with the wind and passing planes to be heard. But it’s the consistency of the ensemble performance, the balanced mix of burlesque comedy and disciplined acting, that is the most pleasing aspect of the show.
Apart from the quality of the acrobatics being uneven, my only quibble – that the mechanicals’ play at the end isn’t worth staging in full – is more with the script than the production.
As usual the gardens light up well, adding to that sense of social occasion that is always a special part of these shows.
HERALD SUN – FRIDAY JANUARY 7 2000, Kate Herbert
When bats poop on the actors, you know it’s outdoor theatre.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is again strutting under the stars with a cast of actors, comics and fruit bats.
Glenn Elston’s Shakespeare under the Stars has become a summer tradition. It rivals productions in Regents Park (London), Central Park (New York) and Golden Gate Park (Sanfrancisco).
After the sexy rock’n’roll version of Much Ado About Nothing in 1999, Elston, with co-director Phil Sumner, has remounted The Dream. It is fast-paced, edited to a snappy two hours.
It accentuates the comic, the sexy and the loud. It takes advantage of gorgeous natural surroundings, enhanced by Tim Newman’s lighting.
The cast, in modern dress, hurl contemporary references, songs, slang and asides into Shakespeare’s poetic/comic verse.
Elston’s casting is far more appropriate than that of the recent Hollywood film, which has Ally McBeal whimpering as Helena.
The greatest treat of the evening is Kevin Harrington as Bottom, the conceited amateur actor. Harrington is a consummate clown and a skilful Shakespearean actor. His death scene is achingly funny.
O’Connor and Kearney pump up the wickedness of Oberon and Puck while Greg Fleet and Wil Anderson heighten the blokey sexual competitiveness of Lysander and Demetrius in a playful double act.
Kate Atkinson is excellent as the addled and abandoned Hermia and Corinne Grant is a fine foil for her as the lanky loser, Helena.
Adrian Mulraney, a fine classical actor, is under-used as Philostrate.
This is perfect summer family fare, even on these wintry evenings.
SUNDAY HERALD SUN – JANUARY 9 2000, Leonard Radic
On a warm summer’s night, there is no more magical setting that the Royal Botanic Gardens for performing Shakespeare’s works under the stars.
But even on a chilly night under lowering clouds – and the opening on Wednesday was unseasonably chilly – there was much warmth and merriment to be had for those who thought to bring their rugs, heavy jackets and a picnic basket.
This year Glenn Elston has revived A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is ideally suited to the gardens and a proven crowd-pleaser. But instead of repeating the formula of previous years and taking the audience on a theatrical promenade, beginning at the lake and going on to the palm grove, it all takes place on a fixed stage, downhill from the herbarium.
As the daylight fades, and bats glide in to settle in the trees, the Master of Revels comes forward to warn the audience seated on the lawn against straying into the bushes where hungry possums lurk.
This is the signal for a breezy, knockabout production which goes at a fierce pace. It is Shakespeare on speed, performed with much clowning and great gusto. The audience loved it.
The actors are kept busy, doubling and trebling and slipping from being lovers, fairies and workmen. There are four stand-up (and fall-down) comedians in the new cast, and a couple who have had gymnastic training.
They throw themselves into their parts unreservedly.
The performances are not high on subtlety. But they are inventive and full of energy. Brendan O’Connor made a lively and nimble (and also jocular) Puck, while Kevin Harrington made much of the role of Bottom, dying a thousand gory deaths and coming back for more.
THE WEST AUSTRALIAN TODAY – MONDAY 18 DECEMBER 2000, Geoff Gibbs
This is a vastly different Dream to the one staged by the Bell Shakespeare Company at His Majesty’s Theatre in July.
It is youthful, energetic, athletic and has that touch of the larrikin that is so popular with the basket and beaujolais set.
It astutely avoids the darker themes of the play which Bell Shakespeare claimed to highlight in its presentation, so this Glenn Elston, Australian Shakespeare Company production is unashamedly frivolous and irreverent.
Shakespeare cleverly resorted to banal doggerel for comic relief in some of the text of the Pyramus and Thisby play-within-a-play that is such a highlight of the final act of the work.
Director Greg Carroll has embossed that option to manage the crowd and to implant very amusing current references to a 400-year old script.
Nick Miller as Philostrate, the eunuch, delivers both the original and the invented text with wit, panache and sufficient testosterone to suggest his minor surgery was not totally effective.
To deliver lines like “so, gentlemen make use of the dunny, losing your willie is not very funny” demands élan to register it with an audience that is being programmed not to wander off into the bushes at any time for any reason during the long first half.
The men in the cast are uniformly strong and exhibit often amazing athleticism in their mastering of the beautifully seductive spaces of the Kings Park Botanical Garden where the production is so effectively staged.
Most of the cast play multiple roles but do so with varying degrees of success.
Andrew Hale struggles with both the authority and vocal power of Theseus, but is a sensuous Oberon and a finely judged and agitated Peter Quince.
Luke Hewitt plays Demetrius as a randy boy scout and is entirely convincing in his unrequited love for both Helena and Hermia but he seemed unable able to shake off that persona for his second role as Flute.
However, his renditions of several feminist anthems as the hapless Thisby were warmly appreciated by the big, youthful audience.
As Lysander, Toby Malone invests his performance with all the energy and physicality of a New Zealand rugby forward. He is convincing and honest in his amorous exploits in the Athenian woods but fails to create a different character for his second role as Snout, the tinker.
Stuart Halusz is a wicked and capricious Puck. His performance is both physically and vocally accurate and yet economical. His high energy is contained and well judged to absolutely suit the words to the actions. His generous repartee with the audience is a highlight of the evening.
Michael Loney is a suitably egocentric Bottom and his death as Pyramus is perhaps the longest on record for that role. As Egeus he is a fine voice and is the only player to plumb the darker side of the text.
When Loney and the rest of the mechanicals drift of into the Beer Song (unashamedly pirated and bastardized from a recent musical) instant bravoes were offered by the BBQ and bitters brigade on the grass.
The women were not as successful as most struggled with the vocal demands of both the venue and the iambic pentameter.
Marissa Warrington was a visual delight as Hermia and employed a deft comic touch in her multiple roles as fairy and Snug the joiner but vocally she was underpowered and ill-equipped to cope with the demands of an open-air stage.
Rebecca Davis was unable to disassociate her two roles of Hippolyta and Titania and struggled with both the poetry and projection of the text. The essential regality and authority of her two characters was not evident so that her status in the court and the fairy kingdom was somewhat diminished.
As the tall and athletic Helena, Natasha Herbert was perhaps the most successful of the ladies and the portrayal of Helena is a schoolie-nerd was a hit.
Animated percussion and some good musical clowning was providedby6 Ian Robbie which served to add depth to the unsubtle but colourful lighting of James Renfrey. Pyrotechnics and flash pots appropriately punctuated the performance.
The audience was engaged and entertained by this exuberant company of young actors.
SYDNEY MORNING HERALD – WEDNESDAY 17 JANUARY 1996, Stephen Dunne
Picnic favourites played for laughs
Sitting on a blanket during a warm summer’s night, a fest in little plastic tubs from DJ’s spread out before you, champers in the Esky – what more could you want but a smattering of the Bard to really put some edge on the antipasto? Both of these summer institutions are obviously popular – Shakespeare By the Sea is doing its 10th season, while Glenn Elston’s Botanic Dream is in its fourth year.
It’s not hard to see why. There seems to be one cardinal rule when performing Shakespeare for picnickers – make it funny. No opportunity for comedy (even if the opportunity isn’t originally in the text) should be wasted. Keep ‘em laughing, cut the speeches to the bone, and wring as much colour and movement as you can. Which is fine. There’s nothing wrong with being popular – the trick is to do it with style.
The most noticeable thing about this year’s Dream is the number of genitalia jokes. I lost count of the gags about Bottom’s dick – how big it was, how sore it got after bonking the bewitched Titania, how often and in what ways it disappeared, etc. etc. Two innocuous references to “the wall’s stones” in Act 5 are turned into testicle jokes – the poor wall first has them cut off, and then licked.
There are some joyous things in this Dream – the general athleticism (these fairies really love mat gymnastics), the lights in the trees, the setting. Some of the acting is very good: Nicholas Eadie’s tripling as Theseus, Oberon and an artsy-queen version of Peter Quince; Jeanette Cronin as the put-upon Helena; Helen Thomson as Titania and Christopher Gabardi as Lysander.
The weak links were Conrad Page’s Puck (Page alternates with Keith Wright) and Phillip Dodd’s Bottom. Page’s physicality is dynamic but he tends towards that faux Shakespearean delivery where you stretch out the syllables for effect. Dodd is so broad you can see him pausing for the laughter. To be fair, most of the time it came, though the indulgent and silly play-within-the-play was a Hey Hey It’s Saturday! routine with a harbour backdrop.
Which is all fine and dandy, if you like that sort of thing. Most of the mystery – and all of the darkness – of the text disappears, but a good time was had by most.
SYDNEY MORNING HERALD – FRIDAY 19 FEBRUARY 1993, Pamela Payne
A long way off, out across the lake and high on a leafy bough, a circle of light finds Puck (Scott Grayland). There he perches – wilful, wily, indomitable, a “shrewd and knavish”, quick-tongued and plausible sprite. He speaks the epilogue to this, perhaps the happiest, of Shakespeare’s plays. If we shadows have offended…
Of course Shakespeare intended this statement as rhetorical. But can it ever have been more rhetorical than at the end of this balmy Sydney evening? With our picnics and our rugs, we have been transported into a world of magic and imagination.
It’s taken five years for Glenn Elston’s Dream to reach Sydney. At last it’s here – with an almost new cast. And what a splendid production it is. Surely Shakespeare wrote this play to be performed amid trees and flowers, lakes and grassy slopes.
We move twice during the evening: from the palace-stage where the play begins to the woods “a mile without the town by moonlight” where the mechanicals, led by a purse-lipped Peter Quince (Nicholas Eadie), try their stumbling stuff; where disport Oberon (also Eadie, Titania (Tracy Mann) and their fairy subjects; where Titania falls lustily in love with foolish, asinine Bottom (Arky Michael) – all gregariousness and bounteous ego; where the young lovers – Hermia (Jane Longhurst) and Lysander (Guy Pearce), Helena (Merridy Eastman) and Demetrius (Rhys Muldoon) scuffle and tussle and are, at last, united. At the end of the play, for the nuptial festivities of Theseus (Also Eadie), Hippolyta (also Mann) and the four young lovers, we return to the original performance area by the lake.
Elston stages rather than directs this production. There is no place here for complex characterization, subtle interaction. Indeed, this vigorously presentational style is closer to what we believe Shakespeare’s own actors might have delivered than to contemporary expectations of performance technique. And here it is effective – triumphantly so.
This is a joyously physical production. Fairies wing from trees; Puck traverses the stage in lightning back-somersaults. The lovers rush and run and tumble; and the rehearsing mechanicals thrash and parry, brave thespians all.
It’s the energy, the boisterous comedy, the music – performed by Timothy Hook – and the brief interludes of dance that are the important ingredients of this show. And Elston’s inspired use of lighting – a bush seems to glow from within, shadows flicker and disappear, cascades of stars burst from the grass.
Then, of course, there are the gardens themselves. No artistry can create this atmosphere. It does, though, take the artist’s vision to make best use of nature, to create in this environment successful theatre.
And this, Elston and his company indubitably do. They tell us Shakespeare’s story with great clarity and with refreshing purposefulness.
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH MIRROR – FRIDAY 19 FEBRUARY 1993, Frank Gauntlett
Real dream of a show
There’s a certain class of twitty theatergoer that loves to point out the apparent discrepancy between the stated passage of time in Midsummer Night’s Dream and the apparent duration of its delightful events.
In all probability this is what is technically known as a Stuff Up. Shakespeare was, after all, a mortal immortal.
As far as tricks with time are concerned, A
Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Royal Botanic Gardens makes time fly – this observer was astonished at the speed with which this delightful evening passed.
Director Glenn Elston has found just the right broad yet intelligently popular tone for his magical mystery tour, edited astutely, cast exceptionally well and allowed the gorgeous gardens by night to form a living frame about the exquisite shadows of the story.
This is not a production for purists.
Mr Elston seems to be of that pleasantly impure school of thought convinced that comedy should be funny and this Dream is very funny indeed.
Sacrifices must be made for productions out of doors but what this one loses in subtlety and shading it gains in boisterous energy, crackling good spirits, visual invention, accessibility and the clearest voices I’ve ever heard al fresco in Sydney.
The object of this exercise is fun, we are invited to bring a blanket and picnic and there is a real sense of luxury lounging in the Bot Gdns by night being entertained in very much the same way as Elizabethan notables might have done.
It’s a production stripped for action and determined to please.
Events in Athens are given fairly peremptory treatment to get us into the woods where the fairies wreak havoc with the foolish mortal lovers and make the most of the wonderful setting.
We have a visually splendid Oberon from Nicholas Eadie and Tracy Mann’s royally pert Titania – together presenting the usual combination of dignity and whimsy.
Former Circus Oz star Scot Grayland is a smashing Puck – not only uncommonly athletic but with a brooding sense of mischief and caprice amid the fun.
Merridy Eastman is an asset in any production, her Helena is a delight and, not for the first time, this character threatens to overwhelm the Hermia, Lysander and Demetrius of Jane Longhurst, Guy Pierce and Rhys Muldoon.
There’s strong emphasis on the Crazy Gang know-out of Peter Quince’s rude mechanicals – they are extremely funny with big, broad, timelessly daffy humour in their final scene.
And there’s Arky Michael as Nick Bottom, bewitched, bothered and bewildered in another outstanding comedy role.
If I have one significant negative thought after this lovely open-air experience it is this: why the Hell doesn’t this sort of thing happen more often?
THE AUSTRALIAN JEWISH NEWS SYDNEY EDITION – FRIDAY 5 MARCH 1993, Peter Morrison
Never a more pleasant Dream
One of the best things to come out of Melbourne and certainly the most pleasant Dream I’ve had, this production, directed by Glenn Elston, is magical and not only because of the brilliance of the production and the setting – two different locations in the Botanical Gardens – but because of the sheer fun with which the director and actors have imbued it.
For once, I have no objection at all to the modern dress and certainly not to the youthfulness of the cast in a production of a major Shakespeare work. Oh, well, there was a slight jarring when Puck was enjoined to anoint the eyes of a gentleman in Athenian clothes; but no matter.
The small cast spread itself, but never thin, over the rich range of Dream characters. Thus Nicholas Eadie made a passing humorous Quince, convener of the rude mechanicals, as well as a majestic Theseus and regal, muscled Oberon. Tracy Mann was a mighty fetching Hippolyta and Titania. Arky Michael, the London cousin in Two Weeks with the Queen was quite the funniest Bottom I’ve seen – not your usual ponderous oaf, but a nimble-footed, sprightly little chap who, like his fellow mechanicals, devised or was given a wealth of inventive business.
As for Puck, has there ever been such a lean, shaven-pated, athletic, adult Robin as this? Scott Grayland, no surprise to learn, has done his time in Circus Oz. If his vocalizing is less impressive than his astonishing tumbling and inspired foolery, no matter either.
Nor could there be any complaint of the thoroughly modern young lovers, Jane Longhurst (Hermia), Guy Pearce (Lysander), Rhys Muldoon (Demetrius) and Merrridy Eastman (Helena). Typical of the production, Eastman plays Helena full-out for the laughs and gets ‘em, as a slightly limping ugly duckling (no wonder she couldn’t get her man without help from Oberon through the agency of Puck).
Surely Shakespeare meant the Dream to be such a joy. He couldn’t have asked for a finer setting, nor could his Globe have dreamed of such splendid technical resources. The play of lights on and in the trees, the arrival of the ducal party by boat across a vast duck pond and the climactic fireworks all made for a magical evening, prefaced by BYO picnics on the lawn. Don’t miss this experience.
DB MAGAZINE 1993, James Mulligan
Dream a little dream with me
If only all our dreams were as pleasant as this. Under a glistening canopy of stars and amongst the magically lit heavenly flora of the Botanical Gardens, a large and appreciative opening night audience reveled in this racy, raucous and ribald return of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The key to the considerable success of the outdoor formula productions of innovative impresarios Glenn Elston., Greg Hocking and Tim Woods is the energy, humour and delicious overacting in each show. Their adaptations are fearless in the limits they take with Shakespeare’s hitherto almost sacred texts, and Dream is the best example of this. The young, vigorous cast pack the text with gags, double takes and entendres, and wring out every last drop of humour in a way that would have had the Bard bemused and amused.
Playing outdoors places large vocal strains on all the actors. Nichelas Eadie
Best preserves what dignity this often difficult text demands. He alone resists the temptation to compensate for the unusual acoustics by bellowing lines, adopting physical exaggeration of campy facial expressions. As a Rambo-style Oberon, an effete and beautifully bitchy Cecil B De Miller Peter Quince, and a resonantly Solomonian Theseus, Mr Eadie is the pick of the cast.
It would be a one-eyed Shakespearean scholar who would claim masterpiece status for this romantic caprice, and the adaptation wisely concentrates on the play to be performed at the nobles’ wedding rather than the awkward machinations of the King and Queen Fairies. Of the merry band of hapless amateur thespians, Arky Michael steals the show as an exuberant lime-light hogging Bottom, whose hilarious performance culminates in the ultimate stage death from Hell.
The park is Scott Grayland’s gymnasium. Looking like Peter Garrett, and as exhausting to watch, he swings from limb to limb and bursts into torrents of tumbles, and in the process becomes an allround great Puck.
Pack a hamper, bring the kids and Aerogard, and see this entertaining Dream.