23 October 2023

Hark! A Midsummer Night's Dream to come to life at Wollongong Botanic Garden

| Dione David
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Actors rehearse for Merrigong Theatre Company's Shakespeare in the Garden: A Midsummer Night's Dream at Wollongong Botanic Garden

“All the world’s a stage” – and Merrigong Theatre Company intends to take this literally as they prepare to stage the inaugural Shakespeare in the Garden: A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Wollongong Botanic Garden. Photo: Yure Covich.

Rain rain, go away, come again another day. It’s not exactly Shakespeare, but there won’t be any shortage of that when Merrigong Theatre Company brings one of the bard’s most cherished plays to Wollongong Botanic Garden for Shakespeare in the Garden: A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The event has been a long time coming but after wet weather stymied its debut last year, the ‘r’ word is regarded with suspicion by the company’s artistic development manager Leland Kean.

“Rain would be the biggest challenge. There is no ‘other venue’. We won’t pull the plug if it’s just sprinkling but let’s not jinx it,” he laughs.

“There are other challenges that come with performing in the natural environment, but there are far more blessings.”

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Kean, who has been working for Merrigong for almost a decade, is prepared for the challenges anyway.

Though this will be his first large-scale production staged outdoors (as well as his very first time directing Shakespeare), he conducts a lot of his work with actors in the great outdoors. His directing philosophy is based on working from “landscape-oriented views”.

“Inside a building, you can’t look at a horizon,” he says. “Outside, where the landscape is open and the horizon can be seen, it changes your performance.

“Being in the gardens surrounded by beautiful gum trees, birds flying, creatures scurrying about, I have the most incredible set in the world … We’ll watch the sunset behind Mount Kiera and then we will be under the stars.

“I can think of no better space to work with the huge thematic ideas explored in Shakespeare’s works.”

Actors rehearse for Merrigong Theatre Company's Shakespeare in the Garden: A Midsummer Night's Dream at Wollongong Botanic Garden

The gardens create the ideal set for the Shakespearian masterpiece. Photo: Photo: Yure Covich.

It would indeed be difficult to find a more fitting setting in which to stage A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Kean calls it a “romp of a comedy” but points out themes and parallels as they relate to the world today.

“We’re playing on the environmental language that exists in the work, which talks of fire and floods, and the idea of the ‘spheres’ being out of whack, all of which rings true,” he says.

“The gods are playing and the mortals are at their whim.

“We’re also having a lot of fun ribbing on modern relationships and the idea of technology in that space.”

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For Merrigong, the idea for open-air Shakespeare came up during the height of COVID when the company was brainstorming ways of expanding its footprint by finding other spaces in the Illawarra to present works.

Rehearsals have commenced in the gardens and will ramp up in the weeks leading up to the show. Epic rigging, including festoon and fairy lights, will illuminate spaces for the audience and mark the “stage”.

Audiences will be welcome to bring a picnic, crack open a bottle of wine and enjoy the experience of witnessing theatre in a beautiful natural environment.

“This is what this kind of work is about – the experience the audience has,” Kean says.

“If all goes well, we hope to bring it back time and again.”

Shakespeare in the Garden: A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs from 9 to 26 November, Thursdays to Sundays from 7 pm, at Turpentine Lawn, Wollongong Botanic Garden. This play is recommended for audiences aged 10 and above.

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