Noted critic Harold Bloom states that Shakespeare transcends history, his genius is universal, and his collected works are a scripture from which we derive much of our language, psychology, and mythology. Which is an erudite way to express how I view Monty Python, too. Fittingly, Shakespeare’s Best Bits feels like a natural blend of those two very good things.
Appropriately, this is play(s) within a play, set in a midsummer’s evening at the Royal Botanical Gardens. Very obviously talented and experienced thespians take on the roles of The Mechanicals, the acting troupe of ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Concerned with selecting a performance for the marriage celebration of the Duke of Athens, the troupe compete to convince us, the ‘test audience’, of which to work to perform. They run us through 10 or so hilarious and modern takes on Shakespeare’s classics. There’s Hamlet – the MasterChef of Denmark. A ‘Much Ado…’ rock concert. King Lear hip-hop battle. A bawdy interpretive ballet rendition of Romeo & Juliet (one of my favs), and our top pick for the evening: Antony and Cleopatra, a whimsical musical. I mean, there was a gigantic inflatable snake (the asp) that had the audience gasping in wonder, surprise, and the sheer lunacy of it all.
The gags are fast, surprising, and relentless. It’s slapstick, lyrical, absurd, and consistently delightful. It was great to try to anticipate where they would take the familiar characters and scenes from the most famous plays, but definitely also a great introduction at how much fun Shakespeare can be to a newer crowd.
Make the most of the beautiful surroundings and our summer weather and make a night of it. Picnic rug, china, goblets, hamper, wine and cheese – or go big like the four-course banquet of aubergines, slow-cooked lamb, lemongrass crème-fraiche and cheeses that the friendly couple next to us humbled us with. Shakespeare under the Stars is a Melbourne institution.
Christian G. is an international man of mystery, lover of books, cats and the performing arts; moonlighting as a finance professional by day.
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‘Shakespeare’s Best Bits‘ runs most evenings to 12 March 2016 at the Royal Botanical Gardens Melbourne. The venue is accessible.