Theatre review: Behind the scenes in A Midsummer Night’s Dream,

We went to the Botanical Gardens this evening to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Behind the Scenes.  This is the latest of the Australian Shakespeare Company’s Shakespeare in the Park performances, which are always good fun.  Since they were selling tickets cheaply just before Christmas I grabbed a couple for me and Andrew.

It’s utterly, magnificently silly, and a lot of fun.

The premise is that the mechanicals from A Midsummer Night’s Dream want to do a play for the Duke, but Bottom and the others are tired of Quince’s plays, and want to do something different.  So they decide to try out a bunch of plays that Robin (the tailor)’s mother found in a book at the library.

No prizes for guessing which book it was…

Anyway, during the course of the evening we get treated to the Mechanicals’ versions of Macbeth (with terrible Scottish accents and even worse costumes), Hamlet (in Masterchef), Romeo and Juliet interpretative dance (to Tchaikovsky, of course), hip-hop King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra – the Musical (it included ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’)!, and The Wars of the Roses as a series of limericks covering the plots and key quotes from all of the eight plays (I tried to memorise some of the limericks, but it all went by so fast that I couldn’t memorise one without missing the next), which was possibly my favourite thing of the whole evening.  We also had bits of Othello (subtitled: Don’t Believe Everything You Are Told, which would have been excellent advice if Othello had only taken it), As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing and I think quite a few other bits and pieces, but I lost count.

The production owed a certain amount to the Reduced Shakespeare Company, but with a lot more music (and far fewer be-wigged and vomiting heroines), much of which was very cleverly chosen – they used very similar music to the BBC Shakespeare for the histories, Verdi’s opera as music for Othello and Tchaikovsky’s ballet of Romeo and Juliet for their interpretive dance.  I think, too, they sent up quite a number of famous film versions of Shakespeare – I’m fairly sure the chap playing Cleopatra was being Elizabeth Taylor.  I have a feeling this whole thing would have been even funnier if I watched more films. They were also very good with their completely inappropriate music for some sections. They had a rather evil habit, too, of taking perfectly reasonable lines from plays and making them into rhyming couplets with thoroughly unreasonable lines (the bit about Cleopatra refusing to ptolerate Ptolemy was particularly dreadful, in a most excellent way).

Altogether, a lot of fun, and I’d gladly see it again, though next time I’d aim to get there an hour early – twenty minutes was not long enough for finding parking.   If you’re in Melbourne and like seeing people do wicked, wicked things to Shakespeare, I absolutely recommend it – it’s funny and filthy and clever and silly, and I’m seriously considering reading Jacques in As You Like It, just so I can do what they did to ‘All the world’s a stage’.

But that would be wrong.

So yeah, I’m glad I opened that email and decided to give the play a try – it was absolutely worthwhile.  Even if we were the only ones laughing like maniacs at the limericks about all those Richards and Henrys and Edwards…

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