Shakespeare in the Park Midsummer and Beyond

Outdoor revels continue with Open House Theater’s boldest fancy yet: The Bard in English & German on alternating nights

Top Stories | Brian Hatfield | July / August 2013

Baz Luhrmann gleaned the requisites for his 1993 production of Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, rummaging through the Australian Opera’s warehouses.

Constrained by budgets, the director fashioned Regent Park replete with rotunda, centre-stage, in which he delivered the orchestra from their stygian pit.

And from under the rotunda, a boys chorus paddled forth from a dark pool, fairy lights atop each head, emerging out into the footlights – a bevy of little, blue Krishnas: Midsummer Night magic in the Indian Raj, 1923. If Baz would not go to the parkland, then it must come to Baz!

The joy of Shakespeare is the new energy found in new contexts and settings. Peter Brook’s chamber Hamlet, enclosed in a ritual circle, in 2000 comes to mind. A "resonant" setting has the power to emphasise other dimensions.

Of the cache of novel Shakespeares mounted in Vienna this summer – the British Shakespeare Company’s King Lear in Carnuntum, The American Drama Group’s The Taming of the Shrew at Palais Liechtenstein and Open House’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Palais Pötzleinsdorf, the last is perhaps the most timely.


Rituals riddled with rhyme

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is almost a ritual at the summer solstice, riddled with rhyme and spells, enacting the struggles of the elements, and the folk subject to them. When humans and fairies fall out of kilter with natural order – this year upon the heels of a waterlogged spring, foreboding climate change.

Midsummer came on 21 June, 5:04 GMT. The sun stalled at its northern peak and the summer solstice stilled the springtide floods that inundated Europe, and it is indeed time for the Viennese youth to heed the beck and call of woods, surf and catharsis: to be "stirred up…   to merriments".

The lid is lifted, as it were, from "your made to measure" playhouse. This season, The Shrew was tamed in the baroque park of the Palais Liechtenstein, King Lear howled in Carnuntum’s Roman ruins and Open House’s Midsummer will be dreamt up in the gardens of Palais Pötzleinsdorf.


The magical madness of open-air

Palais Pötzleinsdorf may not find park enough to "split the ears" of the 50,000 "groundlings" crusading to New York’s Shakespeare Festival every year, but Vienna’s latest outdoor venue breezes into a well-established, global tradition. The Delaware Park Shakespeare festival has composed the Bard for 36 years, while London’s Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, founded in 1932, plays to 130,000. The antipodeans, Sydney Shakespeare in the Park, by the Sydney Opera House, comes out to play at Europe’s winter solstice.

There is nothing so invigorating as exposing a well-rehearsed play to spontaneous forces. Max Reinhardt performed The Dream outdoors at the Hollywood Bowl in 1934, with Mickey Rooney as Puck.

Peter Brook dreamt it up in a blank white box with masculine fairies flying through the trapeze. While actors detest them, audiences love animals and children on stage, but take away the walls and ceiling, will a bat hover over Hamlet or a Boeing 707?

Surely that "Wooden O", the London Globe Theatre herself on the banks of the Thames, is the original open-air tabernacle, exposed to the spontaneous interjections of London’s fickle weather, the "vasty heavens" and modern hubbub. Here, Lear has howled across an apron, cracking thunder and lightning; wide-eyed, hooting owls have heckled Puck’s putting "a girdle round the earth."

Oberon’s invocation under stars and planet reaffirms a thespian’s maxim: "Play to the Gods", something once assumed. Actors and audiences commune, at the mercy of the elements and may count their blessings if they are not "ill met by moonlight."

Shakespeare weathers well today. "And as imagination bodies forth/The form of things unknown, the poet’s pen/Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing/A local habitation and a name." Come and see him spin his magic locally.

Time to commune. Time to participate in nature. Time to appeal to critic John Vivyan’s  "creative mercy", which abounds in Shakespeare’s redemptive comedies. Time to play, with pomp, with triumph and with revelling.


A Midsummer Night’s Dream

11 Jul. 11 Aug.

In English, Thu. & Sat.

In German, Fri & Sun.

Gardens of Schloss Pötzleinsdorf

18., Geymüllergasse 1 (inside in bad weather)

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