A Midsummer Night's Dream - Melbourne Shakespeare Company

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is coming to Melbourne

Meddling fairies, a quartet of lovers and a bumbling band of players are set to hit the summer-y stage of Central Park, Malvern, from 26 February t0 13 March, and it’s sure to bring some Shakespearian playfulness to Melbourne.

The classic show, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, is being spruced up with the addition of re-worked pop songs by Natalie Calia, environmentally conscious set and costume designs and non-traditional casting.

Theatre Haus had the pleasure of chatting to award-winning actor Jackson McGovern, who plays Bottom, an amateur thespian who becomes caught up in the plots of quarrelling fairy royalty.

Outdoor theatre has become increasingly popular in Australia, especially in cities like Melbourne that felt the effects of Covid over the past two years. But, as McGovern reiterates, this challenge has made way for an exciting new opportunity for performers and creatives.

“Oh, the dreaded C-word… Yeah, look, Covid hasn’t been fun for anyone, obviously, and the theatre industry has taken it as hard as any,” said McGovern.

“We have rehearsed outside and have been masked up, but I think we as actors and creatives are pretty used to that by now. Shakespeare’s language belongs outside like it was originally performed, and it kind of forces us as actors to heighten our vocal style to match that language. It’s an amazing challenge and thrill as a performer, and I love seeing and hearing how other actors are going about that.”

Speaking of the atmosphere theatre creates, McGovern commented on the electricity as live theatre returns, even if that means cast members rehearse while still maintaining COVID-safe protocols.

“There’s a real buzz among artists and arts lovers who are able to rehearse, perform and go to events again, even if it’s with these little things over our mouths and noses for a bit longer.

“I’ve found myself justifying my acting choices quite frequently by saying, ‘Oh, you definitely would have laughed if you’d seen what my mouth was doing.’ So come show time, that mouth is going to be under quite a lot of pressure. I might keep the mask on to be safe.”

The play sees director Nicola Bowman explore themes of gender and sexuality with alternative casting choices.

“I’m really interested in the casting of a female-identifying actor in Briana Esmé McGeary as Lysander. It adds this really fascinating intergenerational layer to Hermia’s father’s blind desperation to match his daughter up with Demetrius, and you don’t have to look too far from home (even in recent weeks) to see these sorts of family conflicts are still taking place in 2022.

“‘Midsummer’ to me has always been first and foremost a play that celebrates love in all its brilliant forms, and I really enjoy seeing how inclusive and diverse casting choices like this can add to these classic texts.

“The reason we still get such fulfilment from plays like ‘Midsummer’ is that there is always more to unpack. It’s the mark of a genius observer of human beings that some of Shakespeare’s plays actually seem to get more relevant as time goes on.”

With legendary actors like Dawn French and Richard Griffiths taking on the character in the past, playing Bottom requires some pretty impressive comedic chops, but also a real sense of insecurity and emotional depth.

“Bottom, yes, is an iconic comedic role, and is so loved for it, but I think he’s also just this everyday guy not exactly where he wants to be in life, and yearning for some sort of validation. As an actor approaching 30, there might be a few scraps to relate to for me there…”

As for McGovern’s favourite line in the show: ‘I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream. It shall be called ‘Bottom’s Dream’ because it hath no bottom.’ Dissecting further, McGovern commented on the character’s journey around this dialogue.

”I don’t even fully know why that’s my favourite line, but I think it has something to do with the fact that after this profound journey of self-discovery. He still sees an opportunity to share that story artistically…with him very much centre stage, no doubt.”

For any students or budding thespians, like Bottom himself, who are making the foray into Shakespeare this year, Jackson had this advice to offer.

“I think performing Shakespeare comes down to acknowledging that these characters are intensely real people, for a start. It’s a cliché, but really just have fun with it. And rather than being intimidated by the language, which I certainly still can be sometimes, try finding the joy in learning some pretty cool words or phrases I often wish we still used today.

“Like, it’s so much more fun to say ‘good morrow’ than ‘good morning’ and I’ll fight with anyone who disagrees with me. Or I should say I’ll ‘challenge them to a duel.’”

For more information and to buy tickets for Melbourne Shakespeare Company’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, visit their website. Or if modern comedy is more your speed, McGovern is set to direct Emily Carr’s ‘Beige Bitch’ at the Melbourne Comedy Festival.

Photo Credit: Shae Khreish

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