By Chenoah Eljan
The Australian Shakespeare Company’s 2023 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is perhaps their best and most polished production yet. Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens provides a stunning backdrop; cleverly, the paired-back, simple set does not seek to compete with, but instead compliment and incorporate, the scenic surrounds. It is a long play (which, seated on the ground or a $20 Bunnings chair, is uncomfortably apparent to one’s mortal form) but director Glenn Elston OAM, The Australian Shakespeare Company’s Artistic Director, does an outstanding job of keeping the show moving at such a clip the audience has no time to realise their legs have gone numb.
The entire cast is outstanding, most are seasoned performers well known to us all but the newer additions match their presence, confidence and physical humour with a high level of professionalism. All appear to be genuinely enjoying themselves and exude mirth, frivolity and mischievousness at all times. In particular, the casting of Elizabeth Brennan as Bottom must be celebrated. She is brilliant in all that she does but never has there been a more endearing and delightful Bottom. She steals the show but every single member of the cast brings their all and delivers an outstanding performance. It would be remiss not to name them all, as it is hard to imagine the show could be even half as good with any one of them missing: Madeleine Somers as Peter Quince, Jackson McGovern as Francis Flute, Nicole Nabout as Titania and Hippolyta, Hugh Sexton as Oberon and Theseus, Olivia Mcleod as Hermia, Alex Cooper as Lysander and Tom Snout, Tane Williams Accra as Demetrius and Robin Starveling, Larissa Teale as Helena, Syd Brisbane as Puck and Philostrate, and Henny Walters as Snug.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream lends itself easily to contemporary tweaking and overwhelmingly these are delightful changes. This adaption is eclectic; the costumes beautifully conceived by Karla Erenbots are clearly inspired by the 1970s and Paul Norton’s song selection, for the most part, is in keeping with this theme, however there are modern vehicles, Helena in a Matilda’s uniform, allusions to the Barbie movie, and a mention of LinkedIn. The allusions are more successful, and funnier, than the outright dialogue changes which can feel at times as if they are pandering. Nonetheless, this is a considered and accessible adaptation that will delight both fans of the Bard and those who unfamiliar in equal measure. Glenn Elston OAM’s direction is of the highest standard, and his understanding of physical comedy and composition make this show what it is – truly captivating and laugh-out-loud funny.
Sue-Ellen Shook’s choreography in particular shines when Alex Cooper as Lysander awakes following the sprinkling of the magical flower juice and likewise when Tane Williams Accra as Demetrius wakes following his own magical flower juice dosing. These are two of the best moments of the show.
The Australian Shakespeare Company is celebrating 35 years this year and this reviewer will be encouraging everyone she knows to go see this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to celebrate along with them. It is a joyously fun and entertaining way to be spend an evening and very much worth the pins and needles.