Returning to live performance, the Australian Shakespeare Company (ASC) will live the dream with their production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, which opens today.
“It’s absolutely the one to start with; it’s so easy to understand,” he told Theatre Haus from Melbourne, where the show will run at the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria from 18 December 2020 to 24 January 2021.
“It’s full of great comedy; the storyline just keeps evolving. It’s very clearly placed in three worlds.”
As their flagship production, ‘A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream’ will offer audiences a chance to escape to a “dazzling spectacle”, especially after an extensive shutdown period. Speaking about this new world they’ve created, Elston describes the court with the lovers; the world of the fools – called the mechanicals; and the beautiful, colourful world of the fairies.
“As the play goes on, these worlds start to cross over and intertwine and the comedy that comes out of it is absolutely golden. Then it finishes with the fantastic play within the play at the end, which is hilarious.
“I suppose, in a funny way, you could call it a Shakespearean rom-com.”
The company that Elston founded in 1987 with just a dozen people, has since grown to Australia’s largest independent theatre company, employing around 80 creatives in the six upcoming productions running in January 2021.
Though COVID-19 impacted the season and put any plans to come to Queensland or tour elsewhere on hold (as of 7 December), Elston thinks of the group as maintaining a “very strong family spirit.” Many will recognise the top Australian talent who are part of the ASC family.
One of which is Richard Piper (‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, ‘Underbelly Files: Infiltration’) who is returning to the role of Nick Bottom after first playing Bottom almost 30 years ago for another company in South Australia. Elston was pleased Piper was available, having recently wrapped ‘Come from Away’.
“I said, ‘I’m doing the Dream and why don’t you play Bottom?’ And he was available and he was keen to do it.”
In another role reprisal, Alison Whyte (‘Frontline’, ‘Satisfaction’) joins the cast of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ as Titania.
“She played Titania in a touring production years ago that I didn’t direct, and she’s played Lady Macbeth and Gertrude in Hamlet,” Elston explained. “It’s great to come back and do some more work together.”
So what’s new for 2020?
When it comes to the fashion and set, the production has been redesigned with a decidedly Greek look.
“We’ve built columns on stage that turn into the trees in the forest through lighting; we’ve put a lot of effort into making it new and exciting. We’re really enjoying the whole Grecian theme…the play is set in Athens, so it sits very well to follow that through.”
Out of the 11 Shakespearean shows Elston has produced, the ‘Dream’ is his favourite.
“It’s joyful; it’s so much fun.”
There are many layers to the play, including issues related to arranged marriages, but Elston notes another reason it was chosen this summer was for the poignancy in Titania’s speech.
“She talks about how the world is in turmoil, the world is going wrong; rivers are getting poisoned, sheep are falling over,” he said. “Everything’s wrong because the king and queen of nature (the fairies) are fighting; everybody’s fighting.
“I see that as a good metaphor for what’s going on in our climate these days; there’s not enough harmony to create climate harmony. No one’s actually taking action and results are getting worse and worse.”
‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is family-friendly and runs from 18 December 2020 to 24 January 2021 on the Southern Cross Lawn at the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. Elston urges audiences to arrive early to explore the famous garden.
Start times are between 7:00 pm and 8:30 pm depending on the date; the show has a run time of 2 hours and 20 minutes. General admission tickets range from $20 to $59 with A Reserve from $40 to $99.
For more information, including dates and ticket information visit the Australian Shakespeare Company website.