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A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Kew:

by on 16 July 2021

Dream Magic from Down-Under

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Preview

Australian Shakespeare Company at Kew Gardens from 29th July

Preview with Thomas Forsythe and Peter Amesbury

Drama critic Thomas Forsythe talks to Peter Amesbury, Production Manager of the Australian Shakespeare Company, about the open-air production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream coming soon to Kew Gardens

TF:     It’s exciting to hear that The Royal Botanic Gardens will once again be welcoming Theatre On Kew, the touring company of the Australian Shakespeare Company, to Kew Gardens to show us its “flagship production”of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  It’s quite a way from its home in Melbourne!  I was wondering how this partnership started.  Did the ASC suggest coming to Kew or did you have an invitation from RBG?  How did it all start?

PA:     The Australian Shakespeare Company has been a leading force in outdoor theatre for over thirty years, having strong partnerships with both the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne and Sydney.  In particular, Glenn Elston’s production of The Wind in the Willows has nurtured countless Aussie kids.  Being a staple in early childhood experiences across countless generations, it’s almost tricky to find someone who doesn’t remember seeing it at some stage in their early childhood.  I think that’s a pretty special party of the company.    

A Midsummer Night’s Dream was also the first Shakespeare production Glenn staged with the company as Artistic Director, marking a new incarnation of the company under his watch.    

I believe a Kew member saw Willows initially, and the six-year contract with Kew came from that.  The staging of a Shakespeare at Kew by us was merely a natural progression of the success we’ve had at Kew and the relationship we’ve built with Kew.  We felt it was only a matter of time before we’d be asked to showcase what the Australian Shakespeare Company does best.   

TF:     Kew Gardens couldn’t be a better setting for such a magical play as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, after all, Oberon “knows a bank where the wild thyme blows, where oxlips and the nodding violet grows”.  I strongly suspect that we could find these in Kew Gardens, to say nothing of luscious woodbine, sweet musk-roses and eglantine.  Is this an opportunity to catch an interest in horticulture of the theatre-goer or an interest drama of the botanist?  

PA:     Absolutely! Staged sets are wonderful, but there is something magical about providing a sensorial experience that one can’t find in the theatre.  The scent of the garden, the sounds of summer and real forestry?  Who wouldn’t want to see the story unfold in the most authentic location? 

TF:     Theatre On Kew is powered by the Australian Shakespeare Company.  Can we expect some down-under inspirations for Shakespeare’s feuding fairies, eloping lovers and hapless artisan actors?

PA:     Aussies are experts in not taking things too seriously and I think this mentality shines through in Glenn’s artistic touch of contemporary references.  Glenn really leans into some of the cheeky and quite risqué moments of the text that others might ignore or not realise were even there.  I think that’s why the Australian Shakespeare’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream has remained a favourite with Australian audiences after all this time.  It really is quite a hilarious production that allows access points even for those who don’t understand Shakespearean verse.   

TF:     We are looking forward to some starlit summer skies, but what an idyllic setting for A Midsummer Night’s Dream!  Kew Gardens is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site but also has a host of interesting listed buildings, some quite quirky, such as the Pagoda and Decimus Burton’s impressive glasshouses, to form a fantasy backdrop to the play.  So will there be a set?

PA:     Kew Gardens was of course made a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 2003.  However, whilst all of those locations are completely lovely, it was important to remain true to the original setting, which is outside of the city, deep in the woods, although there will of course be some staging and lighting.  This year’s production has now moved to the Theatre Lawn, behind the Palm House, just a short walk from Victoria Gate. 

TF:     A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs for over a month from 28th July, but you mentioned that it is part of a series of magical outdoor theatrical performances.  What else can we expect this season, and indeed what are your plans into 2022? 

PA:     The Australian Shakespeare Company is also presenting Kenneth Grahame’s classic story of life on the riverbank, The Wind in the Willows at Kew Gardens from 24th July to 30th August.   Set against the magical backdrop of Kew Gardens’ lake, the show is packed with much-loved colourful characters, music, song and laughter.  Dressing up is always encouraged.  These two shows will also be a taster for what comes next year.

TF:     I see that audience will be admitted well before the performance starts.  Will they be able to enjoy all that Kew Gardens offers prior to the show?  Oh, open-air theatre always means picnic time.  What would the company suggest for the picnic?  (We promise to avoid anything made from love-in-idleness flowers.)

PA:     Well, the Greeks loooved their wine…  and picnics are very welcome – perhaps a Greek themed picnic?  Some of my favourite picnic foods are dolmades and olives!  

TF:     Thank you, Peter.  We can’t wait to see the show.

Thomas Forsythe, July 2021

Photography courtesy of ASC

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs most evenings at 8pm from 28th July to 29th August at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.  

The Wind in the Willows runs from 24th July – 30th August on Wednesdays to Sundays , plus also on Bank Holiday Monday, 30th August.  Morning and afternoon shows are available.

Full details for both shows are available on-line at www.theatreonkew.co.uk and tickets are already on sale.

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  1. A Midsummer Night’s Dream | Mark Aspen

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