A Shakespearean celebration that delivered spectacular success with some inconsistencies.

There we all sat, and let the sounds of music creep in our ears, or so Shakespeare (almost) wrote. As part of the Flooding in the Garden Festival, Evan Lawson and his Forest Collective presented the small audience gathered at Abbotsford Convent with The Mingled Yarn: musings on and interpretations of the Bard, through music and spoken word. If anything can be learned from this ambitious undertaking it is that Lawson, the young polymath, certainly knows how to prepare an aural feast with limited means.

As with any concert, particularly one with theatrical elements such as this, there were spectacular successes alongside inconsistencies, however from the outset Lawson’s direction was strong, and his elegant conducting masterful. The opening instrumental arrangement of the Kyrie from Byrd’s Mass for 3 Voices was both beautifully delivered and atmospheric, especially within the surrounds of the convent. Extraneous noises, including birdcalls, the thump of the bass from the bar around the corner, and the distant chatter of its patrons, provided a pleasant accompaniment rather than a distraction.

The premier of Lawson’s Winter Canticle proved the highpoint of the evening. Violin and harp created the texture of feet treading lightly on the forest floor while voices, starting softly, gradually increased in intensity to form whispers of text from Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. While experimental, the music was by no means difficult on the ear, and the various layers of fricatives, half-formed words, soaring high notes and interjections from the ensemble were impressively executed with dramatic effect.

Lawson employed the forces of three singers for this concert with mixed results. While his singers were competent, the space was far too small for their resonant voices, and together they often overshadowed the ensemble particularly in the final excerpt from Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Soprano Rosemary Ball impressed with her breathtaking rendition of Arthur Honegger’s Chant D’Ariel, but again her sizeable lungs proved too big for the acoustic and at times nearly blew the audience out of their seats.

Writer and director Samuel Yeo, with whom Lawson has previously collaborated, curated the dramatic interludes performed by a line-up of young actors. Yeo’s own Mingled Yarn, a comical exploration of various characters and plotlines from a number of Shakespeare’s plays, was well delivered, well written, and engaging. His presence is deceptively bashful, luring the audience in to his seemingly sweet monologue, before surprising with his sharpness of wit. Julia Lamb similarly delighted as she contemplated the possibilities of Juliet’s relationship with Romeo, ignorant to inevitability of the lovers’ tragic demise. Perhaps Romeo would find Juliet asleep in the tomb, lying pale and beautiful, and the two would create a simple life together in the outskirts of the city, spurned by society but happy in their own love. Or Romeo would join the Capulet family business, and Juliet would be the ever-suffering housewife. Such musings were creative and clever, sharply delivered by the young actress.

A concert, particularly one with a theatrical element, should be both aurally and visually stimulating. Mingled Yarn, while in many ways engaging, could have benefited from more refined and creative costuming and props to match the skill and professionalism of the performers. Still, this was only a minor quibble, and the combined efforts of all involved created a fascinating evening, celebrating the genius of Shakespeare while showcasing the talents of young Melbourne artists.