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a midsummer night’s dream @ bella vista farm

Images from Sport for Jove's revival of Midsummer's Dream. Pics by Seiya Taguchi
Images from Sport for Jove’s revival of Midsummer’s Dream. Pics by Seiya Taguchi

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM is playing as part of the season of Sydney Hills Shakespeare in the Park and Leura Shakespeare Festival and a festival it most definitely is. Families and lovers and friends and cronies, all together under a moonless sky to enjoy the group experience of enjoying a favourite 400 year old play.

A military Athens is initially in store for audiences as the guards in their grey shirts and pants usher people in and then stand on guard before the show starts.

Opening on the open raised stage near the small period home on Bella Vista Farm, we meet Theseus (Christopher Tomkinson) and Hippolyta (Francesca Savige). Never tick off an Amazon … she is cross and not shy about expressing it. Conquering Theseus has a very unwilling bride on his hands.

As does pompous Demetrius who has his father intervene in his wooing of the’ low and little’ Hermia. She may be small but she is also is mightily ticked off! She wants big, dumb Lysander.

To round out a trio of recalcitrant women is Helena, a realist, who nevertheless dotes on the unattainable Demetrius.

Lysander (Jerome Meyer) and Hermia (Emma Chelsey) arrange to run to the forest outside Athens and desperate Helena (Adele Querol) narks on them to Demetrius (Chris Stalley).

All four of the confused young people are now loose in the forest as the audience moves to a twinkly stage artfully placed between spectacular Moreton Bay Fig Trees overlooking the valley.

There are fairies at the bottom of this garden and King Oberon and Queen Titania are the dual/second roles performed by Tomkinson and Savige. In keeping with the director’s vision, Titania is also a difficult wife and Oberon is simply not going to get what he wants, a changeling boy to be his henchman, without letting Uber-fairy, Puck (Felix Jozeps), off the chain.

A group of rude mechanicals is rehearsing a play away from prying eyes in the same forest. The play within a play is designed for the Ducal wedding and the leader, Peter Quince (Matt Edgerton) has his own issues with his difficult diva-ish leading man, Nick Bottom (Jonathan Mill) whose confident intention is to play every part in the play. The rest of the 17 strong cast also populate the forest stage, sharing duty as other mechanicals and Titania’s flowery supporters.

Director, Susanna Dowling, a welcome newcomer to Sport for Jove, tackles the perception of passive women in The Dream head on. She describes her characters as “… strong and wilful as the men. If not more so.” And the comedy is all the better for it.

It’s really funny in places. Titania’s groupies are irreverent, sneaky, sparkly, beer drinking smokers. Puck is a bovver boy and with his turned up jeans, Docs, bare chest and punk red suspenders. They communicate directly to the audience who call approval and suggestions as they terrorise the lovers and poor Bottom.

Helena is a hoot and the audience just laughs whenever she comes on, Lysander comes close to stealing the show, and Hermia really nails the physical comedy. The cast uses all the available lit space and the best gag of the night involves the dunny over to the side.

The audience always has something to look at. It is Shakespeare after all and there are long speeches but the carnival atmosphere includes lots of character driven physicality and side play. There are performers in trees and girl fights and an hilarious wooing scene between Titania and Bottom… The enchantment chase scene between Puck and the Mortals is a superb exercise in split second timing. The forest scenes are certainly the highlight of the show.

By the time the audience returns to the house stage for Pyramus and Thisbe everyone is a bit tired. Unfortunately the finale doesn’t pop. There are a few laughs but an air of self-indulgence about the ending of the production. However it doesn’t really matter as the fun has been had and both loyal supporters and converts to outdoor theatre hold hands as friends as they wander off into the night.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM continues as part of Sport for Jove’s 6th Annual Sydney Hills Shakespeare in the Park and Leura Shakespeare Festival until 30th Dec at Bella Vista Farm and January 10-25th at Leura Gardens

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