Josh McConville on getting into the head of a donkey and the darker side of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Next month Sydney Theatre Company will be taking on Shakespeare’s whimsical tale of fairies and magic, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But it seems not all will be flittering wings and glittering sparkles in this latest adaption by the company’s interim artistic director Kip Williams.

We caught up with STC favourite Josh McConville during rehearsals to discuss this new dark adaption and getting into the (donkey) head his character Bottom.

So from Hamlet to A Midsummer Night’s Dream there’s been quite a lot of Shakespeare in your repertoire. Do you do anything differently when you first find out you’re in a new Shakespeare?

I guess you’ve got to do a lot more detailed work on the text, but really you should do that for every play anyway. I guess because Shakespeare is so poetic and more of an equation at times, when you have a word and you don’t know what it means you’ve got to do a lot more research in terms of that and work on the poetry. Making it sound truthful and natural, as opposed to a play that’s written in naturalism where it’s a bit easier to make it sound… natural. With Shakespeare you get such an open license to your own interpretation about it. It’s a different beast. But mainly the text is what you focus on a lot more.

And the character you’ll be playing is Bottom. You’ve said before in an interview that you can only go so far with method acting, which seems somewhat valid for this role?

The way this play is shaping out its going to be pretty whacky, so I don’t think I can go too method- with going into a forest and hanging out with fairies. And turning into a donkey. It’s early days but I have to find out what a donkey does besides make that “ee-yore” noise.

So this is going to be quite a different interpretation of the well-known classic?

I think its going to be quite dark, a dark look at the play. Of course it will keep the comedy in there but the idea of fairies in a forest that just appear and turn people into donkeys? Apparently fairies back in Shakespeare’s days would come and ruin farmers crops and they were considered bad things. So the idea of these people in a forest and these fairies appear, it’s quite a scary premise. And I think we’re looking at taking it from that sort of angle.

Hamlet, Arcadia and All My Sons have all been rather dramatic and darker roles. But now it’s sounding as though this will be too?

Well I just did Hayfever which was a light play, so I try to mix it up! This is a still a comedic light character, but in amidst a very dark dangerous world. So maybe we can incorporate both sides?

This will be your sixth role with Sydney Theatre Company. Do you feel like you’ve got a bit of an STC groove now?

This is the fourth this year, and my fifth will be the next one after this. I love working there and I just ride the wave until maybe they don’t want me anymore. It’s a great company and I’ve got a lot of friends there, and they’re giving me opportunities to try different things.

You’ve had a pretty full on year then. How do you make sure you get a bit of me time in amongst all that?

I’ve been really lucky this year and I’ve been working quite a lot, which has been awesome, but they’ve been overlapping. So you rehearse during the day and then go perform at night, and then you’ll get home a twelve and have to do it all again in the morning. So it was pretty tough to do that, but I went skiing for a couple of weeks. I love snow skiing. So that’s what I do.

And finally, if you were to have your head switched with any animal what animal do you think it would be?

Dog I think? I love my dog Max and think he’s awesome. So a dog or a polar bear?


Josh will be performing in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Sydney Theatre Company from the 12th September to the 22nd October. For more information and to book visit


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