The eucalypts are silhouetted against the evening sky as the sun dips over the horizon at the Environmental Reserve. There is a shuffling and sporadic coughing, whispering and scurrying. Then out of the Australian dusk Shakespeare’s rude mechanicals burst onto a makeshift stage and so begins the Year 5 – 8 performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Families brought chairs, rugs and picnics, and a fire flickered in the background, attracting clouds of little bogon moths, transfixed by the flames. The audience sat just as spellbound as Bottom, Titania and the young lovers Lysander and Demetrius. It took a few moments to adjust to the fact that, yes, there were two Bottoms, two Oberons, in fact, virtually all the characters were doubled, or played by two actors. This allowed the young actors to work off each other, feeding each other lines and magnifying their impact on the audience. The audience were alternately convulsed in laughter at the antics of some of the mechanicals, for example, Bottom’s woefully interminable death scene, or sitting in quiet empathy with the confused lovers’ predicament.
While there were many strong performances, mention should be made of the particular strength of this production – students from Years 5 – 8 who really understood Shakespeare’s language and who spoke to and recognised each other on the stage, rather than merely waiting to regurgitate learned lines. These young people inhabited Shakespeare’s characters in a way that some professionals might envy!
The music, the amazingly quirky and other-worldly costumes, the trees lit up in the background as the anxious and bewildered young lovers chased each other through the woods – for a short while ELTHAM families were transported to another world. A Puck high above the stage concluded the evening with Shakespeare’s reminder of the power of theatre to heal, to mend and to conjoin in community:
“If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear
And this weak and idle theme
No more yielding but a dream
Gentles do not reprehend
If you pardon we will mend”
Congratulations to Director Fred Whitlock, the cast and crew and the wonderful parent and staff volunteers for a magical evening.
Director, Curriculum and Head of Literacy