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A Midsummer Night's Dream (2011)

Directed by Damien Ryan

Written by William Shakespeare

In 1595, Shakespeare’s first daughter was turning 13, an eternally significant point of transition and awakening in terms of identity and sexuality. That year, he writes two works (Romeo and Juliet and ‘Dream’), centring on precisely that mysterious transition in the life of young women.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is very much a play about women, all of whom, including the crossed-dressed Thisbe, are defined by their personal relationships to the notion of chastity and the power of choice in love. There are five worlds in this comedy and four of them threaten tragic stakes at first. Each are founded on the male need to punish what they perceive as female transgression. Firstly a figure imbued with the ultimate in female independence and the capacity for violence, Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, has been subdued by Theseus. Her situation exists to echo and prefigure a second transgressor, Hermia, who in her desperate journey into the forest labyrinth is then mirrored by a third, Thisbe, also fleeing a controlling father. Their frightening sanctuary is “the wood” presided over by the goddess of the wilderness, the hunt, the moon and, above all, chastity – Titania. Her transgression in deciding to keep a mortal Indian boy that Oberon wants is the central female ‘crime’ in the play and provokes a swift and shocking repudiation, that then resonates through each of the other worlds of the play.

For all of these women, along with Helena, their journey is from chastity to the dawn of sexual awakening. The wound-up tragic spring is released without catastrophe, except for Thisbe, who in the mad comic celebration that closes the play offers a very real alternate ending for the lovers watching her die in the wilderness. It is this continual intersection of ideas that makes this play extraordinary. The overall effect of the structure is symphonic, offering through its zig-zag process a remarkable unification of ideas. It is quite literally a tapestry in which plots and sub-plots, main images and single threads, combine in total harmony by the end.

But beyond its magnificent poetry and supernatural force, the play’s perfection lies in its simple humanity. It is a wildly exuberant tale of young love, fickle passion, cruel jealousy and rigorously tested loyalty. It is written by a man with a clear memory of his teenage years – the clumsy helplessness of desire, the humiliation of devotion, and the violent unwillingness of parents and children to see into each other’s worlds.

But above all, the play is a poem of optimism. The Fairy Kingdom’s function is to literally turn the mortal world on its head and bring out the worst in our nature, to debase us, unhinge our ugliest impulses, only to reward our suffering with new insight and deserved happiness.

Meanwhile, the ‘lower classes’, the labourers, the workers, “who never laboured in their minds til now” aspire to heroic, romantic glory through the magic of theatre. And their play’s unlikely hero Nick Bottom has his moment of myth- making, dying again...and again...and again... for the man dressed as the woman he loves. “Eyes, do you see? How can it be? Oh dainty duck. Oh dear!”


The play takes place in the gulf between awake and asleep – it’s final speech permits the audience to make its own decision as to whether “these visions” were in fact real. In approaching the play we wanted to find a way to capture this surreal state of being. The play’s interweaving plots construct a remarkable tapestry of human behaviours. Each plot is directly drawn from classical myth, but most interestingly, it is a raucous cocktail of different mythologies Shakespeare hurls together – Ancient Greek and Roman, Babylonian, Mesopotamian, Celtic, Indian and English folk-loric. It struck us, reading and re-reading the play, that art galleries produce a similar feeling of touring effortlessly through competing mythologies, with disparate visions all sitting side by side. In the Louvre, each archway promises a new vision, each room a new world.

A particular image began to fuel our thoughts. Theseus and Hippolyta, who are both mortal and mythological in the play, began to make an interesting sense to us. Shakespeare uses them as the bridge or cipher between the mortal and fairy worlds, and an image of Theseus as an artist, deeply human in one sense, but a creator of new worlds in another, began to form.

The Elizabethan culture was a profoundly superstitious one with an established folkloric tradition of fairies and goblins that had
either very serious or murkily mischievous functions within the mortal world. While still no doubt a superstitious culture, we have less belief or connection to the notion of a fairy world. But within the world of art we found the direct expression of such realms. It struck us immediately that art is, and has always been, the imaginative realm in which a fairy kingdom makes perfect sense, reflecting our innate superstition and longing for the possibility of ‘other worlds’ existing within or beyond our own. It is the landscape in which the natural and supernatural can meet ‘logically’, where myth and fact can collide. Art is literally a stage on which stories that cannot be told purely in words are expressed – stories of love, devotion, passion – stories of people ‘in extremis’. Art is consciously theatrical, vivid, inspiring and striving for a type of perfection that we felt could somehow ‘frame’ the story we were trying to tell.
And beyond that, all forms of art are the ultimate escape, which is what the young people in this play are striving for. They take a journey into a magical forest through the world of art – a place where anything can happen, a surreal subconscious world of transformation.

Dianne Purkiss wrote: “Fairyland is inside us, inside our longings, our guilts, our unfulfilled desires. To enter fairyland is to be born again, but to go through that birth as an adult, fully conscious of the dreadful process.” The mortals in this play who make that entry are crossing a threshold or portal. We decided
to represent the fairy kingdom as a mixture of ancient eastern and classical western art, beautifying the sculpture garden of an artistic Duke of Athens, into which the young lovers and mechanicals take their magical journey. Their world becomes abstract as the seasons alter until a restorative harmony is achieved, a large connected image of ‘family’ is constructed and the audience released.

Director's Note

(No director's note available for this production)

Production Trailer

Production Reviews

"The HotHouse-Sport For Jove collaboration is a powerful new Australian musical fantasy of love, loss, life and death tied together over two hours by narrator Drew Livingston and his album full of original songs."

Production Gallery

Photography by Seiya Taguchi


2009/2010 Summer Season: 

  • Terry Karabelas | Theseus

  • Suzanne Mackay | Hyppolyta

  • Damien Ryan | Egeus

  • Anna Bamford | Hermia

  • Lizzie Schebesta | Helena

  • Ross Langley | Demetrius

  • Edmund Lebke-Hogan | Lysander 

  • James Lugton | Peter Quince

  • Drew Livingston | Nick Bottom

  • Mitchell Lagos | Francis Flute 

  • Cat Martin | Robyn Starveling 

  • Naomi Livingston | Snug

  • Eloise Winestock | Lil Snout

  • Bernadette Ryan | Titania

  • Oliver Wakelin | Oberon 

  • Takaya Honda | Puck 

  • Damien Strouthos | Puck 

  • Gretal Maltabarow | First Fairy 

  • Eric Beecroft | Fairy Warrior

  • Oliver Burton | Fairy Warrior

  • Mark Harding | Fairy Warrior

2010/2011 Summer Season: 

  • Terry Karabelas | Theseus

  • Abigail Austin | Hippolyta

  • Christopher Tomkinson | Egeus

  • Anna Bamford | Hermia 

(The Leura Shakespeare Festival)

  • Eloise Winestock | Hermia

(Shakespeare in the Garden)

  • Lizzie Schebesta | Helena

  • Yalin Ozucelik | Demetrius 

  • Edmund Lembke-Hogan | Lysander 

(The Leura Shakespeare Festival) 

  • Michael Sheasby | Lysander 

(Shakespeare in the Garden)

  • James Lugton | Peter Quince 

  • Drew Livingston | Nick Bottom 

  • Christopher Stalley | Francis Flute 

  • Barry French | Robyn Starveling

  • Naomi Livingston | Snug

  • Allin Vartan-Boghosian | Lil Snout

  • Bernadette Ryan | Titania 

  • Oliver Wakelin | Oberon

  • Takaya Honda | Puck 

  • Damien Strouthos | Puck 

(The Leura Shakespeare Festival) 

  • Gabriel Fancourt | Puck 

(Shakespeare in the Garden)

  • Eric Beecroft | Fairy Warrior

  • Gretel Maltabarow | Fairy Warrior

  • Sarah Ryan | Fairy Warrior

  • James Winestock | Fairy Warrior

  • Nick Willis | Fairy Warrior

2009/2010 Summer Season: 

  • Damien Ryan | Director 

  • Terry Karabelas | Assistant Director 

  • Jemima Garven | Costume Designer 

  • Pip Dracakis | Musician

  • Amber Kenny | Music

  • Allin Vartan-Boghosian | Music 

  • Christopher Stalley | Stage Manager

  • Dugal Parker | Set Construction

  • Seiya Taguchi | Photography/Program Design 

  • Brian Fairbairn | Poster Design 

  • Liam Fraser | Lighting 

2010/2011 Summer Season: 

  • Damien Ryan | Director 

  • Terry Karabelas | Director (AMND) 

  • Jemima Garven | Costume Design (AMND)

  • Anna Gardiner | Costume Design (R+J/AYLI)

  • Drew Livingston | Original Scores and Music Direction

  • Naomi Livingston | Original Scores and Music Direction

  • Liam Fraser | Lighting Design 

  • Kyle Rowling | Wrestle Choreography 

  • Lizzie Schebesta | Dance Choreography

  • Eloise Winestock | Dance Choreography 

  • Edmund Lembke-Hogan | Sword Choreography

  • Eric beecroft | Sword Choreography

  • Damien Strouthos | Sword Choreography

  • Ross Langley | Sword Choreography 

  • Terry Karabelas | Art and Design Manager 

  • Seiya Taguchi | Photography, Program and Art Design 

  • Tegan Hendel | Program and Art Design

  • Barry French | Scenic Construction

  • David Stalley | Film and Visual Identity Promo

  • John Karabelas | Film and Visual Identity Promo

  • Takaya Honda | Film and Visual Identity Promo

  • Oliver Burton | Festivals Coordinator 

  • Sarah Ryan | Stage Manager

(Sydney Hills Shakespeare in the Park and Leura Shakespeare Fesitval)

  • Kelly Ukena | Stage and Production Manager 

(Shakespeare in the Gardens)

  • Sarah Ryan | Assistant Stage Manager

(Shakespeare in the Gardens)

  • Oliver Wells | Festival Crew

  • Patrick Morrow | Festival Crew

  • James Winestock | Festival Crew

  • Amie McNee | Festival Crew

  • Cassandra Jones | Festival Crew

  • Katy Willis | Festival Crew

  • Caroline Langley | Festival Crew

  • Charlie Jones | Festival Crew

  • Robbie McNeil | Festival Crew

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