Wander through Fairfield Park, through green spaces and follow the fairy lights down to the amphitheatre, where spirits lurk and stories are told. GJ Productions have returned with their second production, an ambitious outdoor production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
There couldn’t be a nicer or more perfect venue for the show, but for a brand new community theatre company, it is a big choice. The venue works for and against the performers, who challenge weather conditions, wind, sound quality, entrances and exits for performers, and controlling the venue.
The evening is opened by lovely acoustic covers by Sean Sully, which set the scene for a relaxed, picnic style event with the audience bringing chairs, blankets and picnic spreads to enjoy while watching the show. The ambience is lovely, with the outdoor setting well suiting the outdoor setting of the play.
Unfortunately, even with the cast being micro phoned, the sound quality outside is not good, and this is where the venue starts to work against them. Sound quality drops as soon as the casts turn their back to where you are sitting, and the mics have plenty of technical issues. The levels of music and sound effects are tricky to control with constant changes in weather and wind, and at times are too loud, too soft or too choppy in use, but the choice of ambient music and sound effects is good.
Performances by the cast are good, with notable performances by company co-founders Jack Wilkinson as Oberon and Grace Maddern as Helena. Wilkinson, who stepped in due to original cast member Roberto Zenca’s illness, is a measured, mischievous and well paced Oberon, with the best enunciation of all the cast. Maddern is a delightfully manic Helena, passionate and funny, and unstopping when her mic gives up altogether. Other truly stand out performances were by Jacqui Essing as the unforgettable, effervescent Puck, whose energy was unmatched; David Todman whose gravelly baritone as a fairy elicited many a laugh from the audience, and Brendan Faulks as Lysander, who only grows stronger as the show goes on. The whole cast are strong performers (but they aren’t a cast of singers), and look like they are having a great time putting on this show.
Direction by Wilkison is strong and with a clear vision of a traditional feel for A Midsummer Night’s Dream with modern touches and a strong element of humour. Previously slow scenes, like the final play, become a hilarious slapstick routine. The first act is no where near as strong or engaging as the second act, with the highlight of the show being the awkward quartet in the forest between Helena, Demetrius, Lysander and Hermia, after the pesky meddling of the fairies.
Costumes are really well constructed, and very timely, from the sharp military uniforms to the floating fairy costumes and make up. Costume changes are also very well managed as much of the cast play multiple characters.
Overall, this is a really lovely night out in Melbourne to see some well done Shakespeare and enjoy the outdoor atmosphere. GJ Productions’ show plays until Saturday 25th February. Tickets at: https://www.trybooking.com/book/event?eid=249239