Last night to the Theatre Royal, Bath, to see an unusual production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
The British Council is a government-sponsored body, intended to 'build mutually beneficial relationships between people in the UK and other countries and to increase appreciation of the UK’s creative ideas and achievements.' In 2004, the Council invited the director Tim Supple to direct a theatre production with performers in India and Sri Lanka. This is the result.
The production was a fair while in gestation. In 2005 Supple worked with hundreds of performers in a variety of cities and other locations in India. He eventually narrowed his choice of performers down to 60, and, after a final difficult month, selected 22 to appear in this play. The only Englishman involved is the director.
What we have here is a most unusual, if not unique, style of production. In the first place, each actor usually speaks Shakespeare's lines in the language which he or she normally uses to perform. So the text is spoken in seven different languages.
Next, we have an amazing mixture of dazzling costumes, an extraordinary set, acrobatics, music, movement, dance, and ever-changing lighting, all built around and integrated with the framework of the play, with which most of the audience are already familiar. The outcome is an extraordinary theatrical experience, and one which I warmly recommend to you.
That being said, you do need to be aware of what you are letting yourself in for. This is not a normal Shakespeare production. I saw three people leave during act one, and the couple next to me did not return after the interval. And one could occasionally criticise the direction, in that the main thrust of the play sometimes gets lost in the spectacle. Most of the audience loved it, however; and this particular audience was much younger in average age than is normally the case at the TRB.
This production has already been widely performed in England and will, I gather, tour in Australia, New Zealand and parts of the US. Keep an eye open for it.
For further discussion see the Guardian blog.