A Midsummer Nights DreamWith its somersaulting ‘acro-fairies’, a punch-up between leading ladies Hermia and Helena, and a completely manic Puck inclined to moon the audience at whim, this is one revved up, madcap production of what is arguably Shakepeare’s best-loved comedy.

Artistic Director Glenn Elston and the ASC team have great fun with this interpretation. The production has run for numerous summer seasons (with some performers returning from summers past), and you get the impression it is something of an evolving beast, developing with each cast, season and performance, sprinkled with topical references, sudden bursts into song and other such nods to pop culture.

Brendan O’Connor, as the mischievous sprite Puck, gives an absolute whirlwind of a performance - from start to finish he hardly seems to take a breath. That said, the entire cast is excellent - a group of skilled actors, yet not afraid of hamming things up a little. They play at least two roles each, displaying their diversity as performers, and made the daunting task of projecting dialogue into the open air seem a breeze.

Hugh Sexton is suitably imposing and arresting as Oberon, king of the fairies, while Terri Brabon as fairy queen Titania is proud and poised, even a little saucy at times; the tension between the two characters is well staged. The wedding entertainment of the final scene, courtesy of group of exceedingly amateur thespians, had me in a fit of hysterics, especially the interplay between Bottom and Francis Flute (Ross Williams and Anthony Rive).

Taking a liberal approach to the text, this production plays up the bawdier moments of the script with gusto, slips seamlessly into passages of present-day English, and pops in the odd Australianism along with an abundance of pop culture references - all met with whoops and shrieks from the audience. Many of these references really enhance the performances and give the characters relevancy but, to be a bit of a spoilsport, after a while they start to overload the original script. Perhaps a little judicious culling might be helpful.

The setting really couldn’t get much better - the stage tucked into a corner of the Botanic Gardens with the audience seated in the open air (or, of course, on picnic blankets). The sound design is spot on - an atmospheric mix of sound effects and tinkly percussion: glockenspiel, bells, cymbals and chimes. Together with some striking lighting and the stylish tatter of the fairies’ costumes, it creates the play’s enchanted forest beautifully.

Pack a picnic (and the aeroguard!) and enjoy a special night of incredibly fun theatre.

Australian Shakespeare Company Presents
A Midsummer Nights Dream
By William Shakespeare

Venue: Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne | Southern Cross Lawn (Enter Observatory Gate, Birdwood Avenue)
Dates: 29 December - 24 March
Times: Dec/Jan: Tues-Sun, 8:30pm. Feb/Mar: Tues-Sat, 8:00pm.
Bookings: 03 8676 7511, Ticketmaster 136 100 or www.ticketmaster.com.au - tickets are available at the on-site box office up to 1 hour before the show starts, please note cash only sales.

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