In idyllic surrounds, A Midsummer Night’s Dream makes for charming end-of-summer entertainment, the youthful hijinks brought merrily to life by Melbourne Shakespeare Company.
Deftly abridged, the 90-minute romp captures Shakespeare’s full menagerie of colourful characters and preposterous plot twists. All this, plus a generous serving of wittily selected songs.
In their first time helming the Bard, director Nicola Bowman keeps energy and spirits high, ensuring that the pace never flags below a breathless gallop. If the comedy is occasionally a little too self referential, there are winning moments in the range of comic styles employed. Bowman makes terrific use of the garden setting, with characters disappearing into what is practically an actual forest upstage, and lovers arriving genuinely breathless when chased across grassy lawns by ardent lovers.
In their most ingenious touch, Bowman switches Lysander to a female performer (Briana Esmé McGeary), adding a neat facet of additional underlying tension to Egeus’ stern disapproval of Lysander as a suitor for his precious daughter Hermia. The second well-considered benefit of this switch is that when the spellbound Lysander frantically pursues fair Helena, the chase comes across as gentler than a male in pursuit of prey.
Indeed, this success in sidestepping basically all of the inherent challenges of the work is a hallmark of Bowman’s direction, in which A Midsummer Night’s Dream can be rightfully enjoyed as harmless family entertainment.
Well served by broadly talented cast members, musical director Natalie Calia delivers a perky playlist of pop songs, with lovely harmonies sung to onstage accompaniment. Wolfgang Reed is charismatically confident on guitar, capably supported by Deirdre Khoo, Madeleine Jolly Fuentes, Emma Austin and Andrew Dang on a range of instruments.
Simply staged, the storytelling is boosted, as ever, by the unobtrusive display of character names on costumes, as designed by Madeleine Nibali. A highlight of Nibali’s work comes when Athenian Duke and Queen Theseus and Hippolyta transform back and forth before our eyes to Faerie regents Oberon and Titania.
The well seasoned experience of Johnathan Peck sees him cut a compelling figure as Oberon, readily embracing the sinister edges of the character’s self-serving intentions. Peck cultivates an easy chemistry with Sebastian Li, who brings effervescent spirit to the sweetly affectionate Puck.
Jackson McGovern is a clear crowd-pleaser as the vainglorious Bottom, bringing a memorable climax to play-within-a-play Pyramus and Thisbe as he serves up a death scene for the ages.
Pack a picnic rug and enjoy the chance to introduce younger family members to Shakespeare with A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays at Central Park, Malvern until 13 March 2022. For tickets, click here.
Photos: Melbourne Shakespeare Company
Loved this so much! Perfect setting in Central Park and loved the modern adaptation of a old time favourite. The musical arrangement was magical. Watching the performers inconspicuously weave in and out of the audience and seeing them gracefully emerge from the trees and bushes made you feel like you were not even there, and yet it was like being on centre stage. Genius. I grew up in this area of Melbourne and managed to come back to visit from the Netherlands a couple of weeks ago, when I saw this was playing in the park. Life in the park seems to have evolved since I was a kid, and certainly since the pandemic. I love that there is space for the arts in the park and that Shakespeare bought so much joy with this adaptation of his play. Great job by everyone involved.