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“Could I ask you to switch your mobile phones to silent? And those of you who brought cicadas with you, could you do the same with them?”

It’s a hot summer afternoon in the Eurobodalla Botanical Gardens. The cicadas are shrill, and the heat is shrill too. I can feel it boring into my back as loudly as the cicadas into my ears. However the crowd is jovial, neatly arranged in front of the stage in three sections: rug section, low chair section (that’s me), and high chair section (that’s classier people.) Everyone’s brought picnics, ranging from bowled salad to clumsily constructed rolls, and of course the easy option, biscuits and dip. People drink from bottles in stubby holders, wine glasses, plastic cups.

A can tips over slyly and pours its beer-foam onto a rug. A young woman throws a piece of carrot into the air and after three tries finally catches it in her mouth. A curly-headed lad is sent to collect his mother’s sparkly sandals when the family moves camp without them. A pile of chicken bones grows just in front of me as al fresco food disappears at a relishing rate. The feasts have been brought in wheeled eskies, camping refrigerators and a variety of carry-bags from the tatty to the elegant.

The crowd grows. This event was sold out well before Christmas, and cars were pouring off the highway when I arrived at 5 for a 6.30 start.

What the heck is it we’re all here for? Shakespeare of course. “Twelfth night.” Cicadas fade as singers approach and the play begins.

It’s a romp. Malvolio is obviously the centre of this play: he always manages to steal the show. This time he plays for laughs (my last Malvolio achieved sympathy), hamming up lovelornness, exaggerating body language and using the minimal set brilliantly, especially when he appears cross-gaiters over yellow stockings. Sir Andrew takes refuge in the crowd: trees are used for lurking: Sir Toby is a very credible drunk; the fool is wise and mischievous; and Maria and the Count are childish aristocrats, determined on getting their own way.

Interval is announced with a song, directing us to the throne room, coffee and a raffle. Food appears again. Fruit skewers now. Tubs of strawberries and blueberries. Slices of cake. Dragonflies skim through the crowd. There a gentle breeze and the sun is sinking, taking with it its heat.

In the second half misunderstandings multiply, emotions escalate, actors sweat, duels fail to eventuate, and of course all ends well.


The actors are from the Essential Theatre Company, an independent group that offers a summer season of Shakespeare in the Vines (and gardens) all over Australia. Eight actors double up to fill all the roles and it’s a tribute to their acting that they manage this without confusion, even when costume changes take place in full view.

This evening is yet another jewel in the crown of Arts in the Eurobodalla.