Life’s Pretty Tough in the Heat of the Night – The Age (13/12/94)

Life’s Pretty Tough In The Heat Of The Night
Raymond Gill
13 December 1994
The Age


So you think acting’s a breeze. Not so for a hardy troupe turning on the entertainment in the Botanic Gardens, says Raymond Gill.

ACTORS have a tough life in a Melbourne summer if they work in one of Glenn Elston’s outdoor productions. A Shakespeare in the Botanic Gardens gig means that during a four-month season an actor could expect battered limbs, torn ligaments, drastic weight loss and strained vocal cords.


Running about a park in the dark three hours a night, six times a week, takes its toll and that’s not even accounting for the psychological demands of turning into a Shakespearian character every time the sun goes down. Then there’s the pressure of playing to a nitpicking, picnicking audience, lazing on their patch of tartan, Eskies at the ready with their smug, “So, entertain me!” looks.


Not all audiences are so hard; it’s just that on Friday nights after a long week at the office some people tend to be less willing to meet the actors halfway.


“They don’t want to help you and sometimes they become really obstinate and that’s the point where you come off stage and you start bitching about them,” says Simon Hughes, who plays Montague in Romeo and Juliet, which is previewing at the Old Melbourne Conservatory in the gardens. Hughes is a Glenn Elston production and Botanic Gardens regular, having appeared in Twelth Night (Sir Andrew Aguecheek), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Demetrius and Flute) and Wind in the Willows (Badger) since 1987 when Elston hit upon the charms of taking Shakespeare’s lighter plays to the great outdoors.


Now in his ninth year as an al fresco Elston actor, Hughes has been advising his fellow players on how to deal with audiences and acoustics “You start addressing the other actor and then swing out to the audience. You create the illusion of intimacy when you’re really belting it out.”

More than most actors, Hughes has faced his share of tricky audiences who usually greet his arrival with a flurry of whispers.


“Isn’t that the man from the Bendigo Building Society?” they ask as they connect the gangly body and rubbery face with the latest BBS interest rates.


“It’s not terrific for the mental preparation,” he says. Hughes is usually cast in comic roles which means his participation in the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is somewhat limited, though he says there’s still comic potential in the play, which director Elston is emphasising. “Glenn has gone for the comic moments and there are a lot of them in Romeo and Juliet, up until the point where Romeo is banished.”


“I have a lighter load this year,” he says. “Montague comes on only every 40 pages or so there’s a temptation to drink out the back in the dressing room.”


Unlike previous Elston Botanic Garden shows, this one does not ask audiences to traipse around the gardens following the action. Romeo and Juliet is played on the lawns surrounding the charmingly decrepit Old Melbourne Observatory which gives the line “Star-cross’d lovers” an added dimension. The lovers are played by Jack Finsterer and Nadine Garner.


Keeping the charm of the play and a character fresh is difficult when the season can run for up to five months (depending on the weather). “If you get too much into the rhythym of it, all you become is a voice making sounds.” Hughes says the cast become like a family which means they can get on each others nerves from time to time.


Romeo and Juliet officially opens on Tuesday 20 December and will continue throughout summer, weather permitting.

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