The Australian Shakespeare Company are truly giants of the independent theatre scene.
Established in 1987 under the direction of Glenn Elston, they present exciting, accessible, and contemporary productions of plays and musicals – not just Shakespeare! The ASC perform and tour nationwide, visiting metropolitan and regional cities as well as remote and outback locations. Best known for their outdoor performances in beautiful Botanic Gardens and National Parks, the ASC create productions for indoors as well, and while site-specific theatre is their signature, they are focused on allowing flexibility for adaptation in any location and circumstance.
Glenn Elston OAM is a producer, director, writer, and current Artistic Director of the Australian Shakespeare Company. Some of his past credits include A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, The Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, Richard III, Henry IV Pt 1, Hamlet, The Comedy of Errors, Macbeth and As You Like It. He has also produced and directed internationally in London’s Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.
With their iconic production of The Wind in the Willows currently running in Melbourne and opening today in Sydney, we chat with Glenn about what audiences can expect from the magical and enduring play.
The Wind In The Willows is traditionally a children’s story, but has been a staple of the ASC program for decades. Why do you think it’s so widely loved across all ages?
The very first review that the show got said it was for child for adults and children alike. And that’s something that we’ve always been very proud of that, that we’re entertaining families. We’re not just doing it just for the children, we’re entertaining the whole family. I think that’s the other reason why it just it grows on us, because the whole family gets to enjoy it and go out and enjoy themselves together. And that’s pretty precious, it’s become also sort of a generational tradition.
And has your production changed over that time?
It’s definitely grown. Yeah, there’s always some little little changes and it just keeps it fresh. Usually the new young people, we have a couple of young people in the production, 9, 10 year old children, and just having them always gives it a freshness as well.
The original novel is over 113 years old – why do you think people are still so drawn to the story?
It’s a beautiful story, I mean, the book is fabulous. There are other parts of the book that I’d love to do, and that we did do in the early stages, but the show was getting too long for a very young audience. It’s a really beautiful book and the characters are such that you get a good reflection of some archetypal characters that you everyone will have in their life. Everyone’s got a Toad in their life. Everyone’s got somebody in their life that wants once every new shiny thing that comes along. And the other thing that supports that longevity is that the basis of it is friendship. The value of the relationship from all the major characters is just a wonderful friendship and a support structure for each other. And that’s great. It’s also got a good life lessons – Toad ends up in jail for being naughty, thinking that he can just do whatever he wants, and I think that’s not a bad little story for young people: there are consequences. And I guess as well, that makes it relatable no matter what age you are.
How is staging a show in the gardens different to a conventional production?
I think the thing about doing it outdoors in the garden is also is that you get a greater sense of adventure. Because there is the reality of moving locations, and there’s the reality of there being water there, the lake, and there’s the reality of the little kids going off with Badger in rescue mode, searching in the wild woods. The battle is right there in front of you. So it’s it’s a joy to do and it’s a joy to watch the families enjoying it.
Why should people come and see the show?
Think of it as an experience. It’s not like it’s not going to the theatre. It’s it’s a much broader experience. It takes you into nature. I think like everyone other thing, if you live in New York, you don’t take much notice of the Empire State Building. I think in moments, people forget that the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne are one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the world. And to come in there and be able to enjoy that, and just be in this beautifully designed natural environment, it just makes you feel good. It’s a wonderful experience. And the whole concept of going to see the play during the day and then spending some time in the garden with your family is wonderful. Or coming for an evening and seeing the gardens lit up in a different way. Come early, go for a walk around the garden before the show. It’s it really is an experience. It’s much more than walking through the doors of the theatre.
The Wind In The Willows is currently playing at the Melbourne Botanic Gardens until January 24th.
A concurrent production opens today (Jan 6th) at the Sydney Royal Botanical Gardens, also running to January 24th.