It is half past nine at night and I am huddled in a borrowed coat, on a blanket in a park, in the centre of a big city. My mitten-clad hands clutch a mug of liquid which warms the inside of me, even as my ill-matched clothing warms the outside because, though it is summertime, this city deserves its reputation for weather that changes every half hour.
As I steal a glance around me at other people on their groundsheets, drinking or nibbling, it occurs to me that if I were doing this in almost any city back home, I might be a homeless person, possibly in fear of my life from some gang, or rival squatters who covet my food or blanket.
But I am not there; I am here. In Melbourne, in the Royal Botanic Gardens just off St Kilda Road, and it is interval in this evening’s open-air performance of Shakespeare Under The Stars. Above my head, bats fly between the huge trees, and the merriment and chatter around me comes from members of my family who moved to this country six months ago.
I have to admit to a little spark of envy. Shakespeare Under The Stars is so popular in Melbourne that we had to book our tickets a week ago, whereas back home those actors who risk the shirts on their backs to perform the same plays, do so mainly for disinterested learners on forced outings from school. Perhaps I am being unfair, but as a lifelong fan of Shakespeare, it saddens me that productions of the Bard’s works have dwindled back home – something to do with it being considered unnecessary for scholars to study his plays. The long-suffering performers of those dreaded “schools matinees” are often only rewarded by ribald mirth, more so if the play being performed is a tragedy!
I can’t help but feel that if people back home could see what I’ve seen here, they would view the so-called “difficult Shakespeare plays” with a new interest. Certainly The Australian Shakespeare Company has opened the eyes of more than one South African in my group tonight, causing us to rock with laughter at this rendition of a comedy that was conceived over four hundred years ago by a visionary playwright and actor who knew exactly how to delight and entertain his audience.
Yes, Shakespeare is alive and well, and living in Melbourne!