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A Dramatic Escape: Leura Shakespeare Festival

Iambic pentameter, melodramatic Italians and a horde of gender-confused lovers are retuning to the Blue Mountains for the Leura Shakespeare Festival after last year’s sell-out debut. Opening tonight and unfolding in the dream-like Everglades Gardens, the festival is run by the Sydney-based Sport for Jove Theatre Company (SfJ) and The National Trust of NSW. Directed by Damien Ryan, the poetic line up includes A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet and As You Like It.

The festival’s Coordinator Oliver Burton is the young theatre gun responsible for managing the logistic, relationships and general chaos needed to coax a mountain-based Shakespearian festival into existence. “The Leura Shakespeare Festival allows an audience to experience genuine repertory theatre in one of the most beautiful performance venues anywhere in the country … The Everglades Gardens feature Australia’s only purpose built outdoor Shakespeare stage so they facilitate genuinely immersive theatrical experiences,” says Oliver as he delves into the festival’s creative merits. “Generally working outside gets a poor rap because actors have to work very hard vocally to be heard. That’s not the case in the Everglades, as the space is so contained and intimate. One of the lovely things about working outdoors is the references that Shakespeare throws in to the ‘inconstant moon or ‘brave o'erhanging firmament’, and there they’re right above you to gesture towards. It really helps us access the text.” This year, select performances will also unfold at the Norman Lindsay Gallery in Faulconbridge – a fitting location seeing as SfJ’s take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream is inspired by classical art.

With a plethora of grassroots companies reciting the Bard’s hallowed lines, SfJ stand out because of their simplicity, knowledge and trust – after all, “an honest tale speeds best being plainly told.” The Leura Shakespeare Festival performances “are highly reverential productions in their approach to the text. [SfJ Managing and Artistic Director] Damien has always placed the clarity of the storytelling at the top of high priorities,” explains Oliver, before pointing out that there are no doublets or cod-pieces in sight. “But our settings also aim to illuminate the text for a modern audience. [Take for example] Damien’s decision to set Romeo and Juliet in a post WW2 Italian village in which the ‘ancient feud’ has all but died, until the return of the soldiers from the front.”

Damien is set to direct Romeo and Juliet for Bell Shakespeare in March and has breathed new life into a host of loved, despised and ambiguous Shakespearian characters as both a director and actor. “Many of the SfJ ensemble have been taught by or worked with Damien in some way over the years,” says Oliver. “He is the lynch pin for most of us. What’s wonderful about that is that everyone instantly speaks the same theatrical language which leads to some truly stunning work in a very short period of time.”

Best accompanied by wine, picnic provisions and a constellation drenched sky, the Leura Shakespeare Festival aims to delve into the trials and tribulations of love (in all it’s problematic glory). After all, nothing draws a girl to the mountains like a little romantic action. The festival will open tonight and run on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays throughout the month, concluding at Norman Lindsay Gallery on January 28 and 29. Tickets are $30 for adults and $25 concession and are available at

words: Liz Schaffer


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