A Midsummer Night's Dream 2009

Adrian Dart and Sophie Lampel

Review by Richard Flynn Adelaide Theatre Guide

Scene: the gardens of a Clare Valley winery, late on a warm Saturday afternoon; a large crowd of all ages sitting in their deck chairs or on rugs and cushions on the grass, making serious inroads into the contents of picnic hampers, the cellars’ wines in as many glasses as you’re ever likely to see at a performance, now “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Ah! This is the life! Eight strolling players come into view. They’re singing, to music from the musical, “Pippin”:
Join us! Leave your fields to flower. Join us! Leave your cheese to sour!
Join us! Come and waste an hour or two!

Well it’s just on three, but no one objects, since we’re treated to an expert version of the Shakespearian comedy almost overdone where Botanic Gardens and the like are to be found. But not this one from Essential Theatre, a Geelong-based professional ensemble, performing “Shakespeare in the Vines” in wineries and gardens around Australia for nearly a decade. Last year it was “Twelfth Night”; next year “A Comedy of Errors”. Take note!

This is high-energy, tight ensemble playing where every actor is a star and, yes, the whole is way greater than the sum of its parts. In the open air, they speak with seemingly effortless clarity and articulation – without sounding artificial or forced. No microphones; sound effects are per guitar, accordion and hand percussion tools – even the tops of leather suitcases. As you’d expect, the key is in the play’s clever and true-to-text direction by Kevin Hopkins, helped beautifully by a costume designer (Chloe Kerr) who knows how to suggest the visual elements of each character (everyone plays several) with clever, I could say ‘intelligent design’. The audience is never confused – and in their many transformations, no actor is offstage or idle for long. This production zings. Aimee Blesing, as Helena, Quince and Prologue, uses her height and few props to great comic effect, while Pablo Calero is a swarthy Demetrius, a piping Flute and an hilarious Thisby. Jane McArthur plays the tiny, high-powered Hermia, Snug, and cute Lion (cub?) who would frighten no one, not even “the ladies” of the Athenian court! She’s a dynamo! Glenn Van Oostrem is a hot and ballsy Lysander, Snout (with an adenoidal voice, what else with such a name?), and the inventive, multi-purpose Wall - with chinks and protuberances in all the right places. Adrian Dart (Theseus and Oberon) and Amy Humphries (Hippolyta and Titania) parry and thrust with gusto.
Sophie Lampel is one of the best Pucks (she also plays a contrasting deadpan, dullish Philostrate) that this reviewer has seen in a long line of mischief-makers. This little lady is explosive in her interpretation and she has us where she wants us – willingly! Then there is Drew Tingwell as show-stealer, Bottom (heroic lover, Pyramus, and incensed father, Egeus). He misses no opportunities and we love him for it! Just to see how he trots and snorts when changed to an ass is to witness an actor of awesome talent. But that’s only a fraction of his stellar, thoughtful performance. The Royal Shakespeare Company can’t be too far away!

If you want to catch this now, you’d have to journey to Canberra. Otherwise note this company’s next visit,
sadly a year away, with the play as cited above. It’s worth a city dweller’s two-hour drive. Why should the
residents of the Clare Valley have everything? It’s not fair!

Rating: 5 (out of 5)