Theatre review: Shakespeare in the Garden – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Wollongong Botanic Garden

Merrigong Theatre Company's enchanting reimagining of Shakespeare's classic against a breathtaking natural backdrop.
'Shakespeare in the Garden – A Midsummer Night’s Dream'. Image is a green leafed clad fairy atop a green leafy piece of set with a background of trees.

Set against the breathtaking backdrop of the Wollongong Botanic Garden and Mount Keira, Merrigong Theatre Company transported audiences to a new realm with its refreshing take on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

It can be difficult to try and adapt a classic, especially Shakespeare; however, Director Leland Kean and Associate Director Danielle King managed to balance the modern references perfectly while remaining true to the core of the original.

For those unfamiliar with this comedic classic, A Midsummer Night’s Dreams tells the story of the romantic entanglements of four young lovers and the mischievous antics of fairies in a magical forest.

The Shakespearean language may have been difficult to grasp for those who were experiencing Shakespeare for the first time; however, the crowd were able to fill in the blanks with the witty narration of musician Kay Proudlove – whose voice and lyricism could have had their own show.

Throughout the play, this reviewer was thoroughly impressed with the use of the space. With only two towers on each side and a flower-clad bench on the centre of the stage, the cast used every crevice of the botanic garden in order to enhance their story. For example, the fairies would chatter on stage, while Hermia (Billee Paige Harris), Helena (Rose Maher), Lysander (Alexander Morgan) and Demetrius (Duncan Ragg) would be wandering through the plants in the background, and while Lysander and Hermia fought, Puck (Danielle King) was nearby hiding behind a tree.

The use of space was so well done it felt as if the natural open-air set had been created specifically for the show and not the other way round.

The lighting, directed by Jasmine Rizk, was another major highlight of the night. The gardens were already beautiful to look at, but the warm soft lights on the fairies, the wandering lights projected upon the trees and even the deep reds and purples during Bottom (John Michael Narres) and Tatiana’s (Ali Gordon) rendezvous made everything feel all the more magical.

Although the rain began to pour after intermission and a small number of people without umbrellas left, the crowd that remained seemed unaffected by the weather and continued to watch. The cast were the true embodiment of “the show must go on” spirit and carried on as if the rain had always been a part of the script.

The actors often broke the fourth wall through the play, walking through the crowd if not directly speaking at them, which was pleasantly welcomed by the audience, who enjoyed the interaction.

While every member of the cast was exceptional with their lines and their performance, this reviewer thought the actors who doubled as fairies and humans were just as much stars of the show as the main characters, as they evoked reactions from the audience with their exaggerated actions and comic timing.

Read: Theatre review: The Seagull, Roslyn Packer Theatre

This adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy classic was irreverent, witty and, most of all, enchanting. Merrigong Theatre Company’s production has found the perfect balance between the original and modern humour, while ensuring all other aspects, such as the set, lighting and costume, were up to par.

This reviewer left with only positive comments to be said of Merrigong Theatre’s version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and hopes others will have the chance to enjoy it if it’s ever performed again.

Shakespeare in the Garden A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a production by Merrigong Theatre
Director: Leland Kean
Assistant Director/Text Coach: Danielle King
Costume Designer: Katja Handt
Lighting Designer: Jasmine Rizk
Composer/Musician: Kay Proudlove
Costumer Supervisor: Judith Tanner
Stage Manager: Emily Oades
Duty Stage Manager: Zac Hanlon
Assistant Stage Manager: Isabella Harkness

Cast: Tim Allen, Yure Covich, Charlotte Dickinson, Ali Gordon, Billee Paige Harris, Susan Kennedy, Danielle King, Rose Maher, Ian McColm, Alexander Morgan, John Michael Narres, Duncan Ragg, Bradley Ward

Shakespeare in the Garden – A Midsummer Night’s Dream was performed from 9-26 November in the Wollongong Botanic Garden.

This review is published under the Amplify Collective, an initiative supported by The Walkley Foundation and made possible through funding from the Meta Australian News Fund.

Titilua Ikenasio is a Samoan writer based on Wiradjuri Country. She is a recent Journalism graduate from the University of Wollongong but enjoys all forms of writing. She is currently writing for two local newspapers and freelancing for Buzzfeed.