Theatre review: Peter Quince Presents A Midsummer Mechanical’s Dream

Shakespeare, but not as you know it (and that’s a good thing!)

Somehow Shakespeare and Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens just go together, and when you have the bonus of a warm Melbourne evening and a drink in hand, awaiting a performance from the popular Australian Shakespeare Company, then as the Bard himself said, ‘With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come’.

The title of their latest show, Peter Quince Presents A Midsummer Mechanical’s Dream, is a mysterious mouthful, and for the first 20 minutes or so the audience is introduced to the wacky band of Mechanicals from A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Peter Quince, Nick Bottom, Francis Flute, Tom Snout, Robin Starveling and Snug. Evidently, they’re looking to mine the works of a certain playwright named ‘Bill’ in order to find the perfect play and win the right to perform for Duke Theseus at his wedding to Hippolyta in Athens.

This lead-in felt overly long and did a disservice to the actors, making them seem like a slapstick group of children’s performers. Thankfully, as the heart of the show is revealed – essentially a series of comedic vignettes traversing over half a dozen of Shakespeare’s most well-known plays – the wit and genuine laughs start coming thick and fast.

The actors are an energetic and highly talented bunch, with an extraordinary ability to play multiple roles, remember a mind-boggling amount of lines and choreography, and still improvise with hilarious results when things don’t go to plan.

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With plenty of topical pop-culture and political references thrown in along the way, the audience are treated to a whirlwind sample of Shakespeare’s classics, all with a major twist. The zaniness is clear from the outset with Macbeth featuring one particularly buff (and partially in the buff!) actor stealing the limelight, wearing not much more than a red beard, an apron and riding a hobby horse. Other highlights include Hamlet set in a MasterChef kitchen, a rap version of King Lear, Romeo and Juliet reimagined as a ballet, and Anthony and Cleopatra as a musical. Such high-energy hijinks, are perfect for spectators whether they’re new to Shakespeare or well-read. 

The set design is clever, the costumes and props are inventive, and the unobtrusive yet essential elements of music and lighting help complete an excellent experience.

BYO a picnic and settle in on the lawns for an entertaining night as the Australian Shakespeare Company put the ‘lit’ back in classic literature.

Peter Quince Presents A Midsummer Mechanical’s Dream
Australian Shakespeare Company
Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne

Cast: Kevin Hopkins, Andrew Bongiorno, Hugh Sexton, Madeline Somers, Anthony Rive, Scott Jackson
Tickets: from $25

Peter Quince Presents A Midsummer Mechanical’s Dream will be performed until 12 March 2022

Sarah is a freelance writer working predominantly in the Arts. Her clients include Nickelodeon, Child Magazines, aMBUSH Gallery, Kidspot, and the RSPCA. Her short play, ‘Celebrity is the New Bleak’, was performed at the Victorian Arts Centre, and in 2018 she co-founded the annual Stellar Short Film Festival to support Australian filmmakers.