Friday, October 12, 2007

A Midsummer Night's Dream

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.


Anonymous said...

I like the international flavor of the cast and costumes as well as the acrobatics, but with everyone shouting in seven different languages, I can't help but think it would sound like a UN debate with no translators. I guess no one in the audience wants to admit they have an interest in the actual dialogue (they, ahem, know it by heart, no doubt). Poor Bill--I'm one of those stale leftovers who suspects he thought his words were as important as his stage directions.

Next: Hamlet, the frustrated transvestite (from Sri Lanka). That poor boy has already suffered enough on the stage!

Sorry, Grumpy--love ya but I'll stick to my out of date Olivier VHS tapes on this one :)

Gladys Hobson said...

A Midsummer Night's Dream. Ah what memories!
When I was about twelve our school performed this play in the park. I recall learning a peasant dance and having a costume made. I have never forgotten some of my lines and say them regularly — when I want to cheer my hubby up, I hold my thumb and finger in a circle and say in a 'peasanty' voice: "Oh kiss me through the hole of this vile wall." "I kiss the wall's hole and not your lips at all." It brings a smile every time.

Of course, since this play was performed in the park where the yanks took their girls, there was another kind of performance going on at night. Not the sort we girls really knew anything about.

From what GOB says about this modern version of Will's play, I guess we would have been just as much in the dark with that too! But it must have been quite a performance.

Anonymous said...

Gosh...where do I start? I'm totally new to this, but I am in awe of anything written by "Willie Shakey," as some of my colleagues used to call him, so I'd like to think any production would represent his work with the respect it deserves.Without seeing this production myself, I can't make any comparisons, but I once watched a modern version of Macbeth, where horses were replaced by motorbikes and the witches replaced by down and outs, and I have to say, it didn't compare with the original. Still, I suppose we have to move with the times...or do we?

Anonymous said...

Move with the times? Imaginary creatures such as ghosts and witches don't seem particularly tied to any specific time in our history. Not to mention dragons (I'm now thinking about some "modernized" Wagner productions, how do you modernize dragons? by turning them into corporate presidents? what's the logic there?).

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Anonymous said...

It sounds absolutely wonderful! I guess it wouldn't work except with a text and story that quite a lot of the audience knew fairly well, but if they do, why not? It's a story crying out for more magic and colour than most productions can give it.

No reason to stay if you're not enjoying it, of course, but I never understand why people get so indignant about this kind of thing. Shakespeare doesn't need molly-coddling, he's tougher than that. The play's still there, the words are still there, and something like this can make you see an old friend (or classroom enemy) in a wholly new light.

Anonymous said...

I saw the play in the theatre royal in Bath a few nights ago with my school. I really enjoyed it, I thought it made it more exciting to watch and kept my attention. Perhaps even more so than a traditional performance of a Shakespeare play. But there were lots of students there and I think many people found it difficult to concentrate on a play in any language but there own. But this really didn't need just words to make it followable.

Bluedog said...

Saw this in Edinburgh last night. Really missed the English text at first, but it became less of a problem as the evening went on.

Great performances, and a wonderful spectacle. The director has just won "Best Director" at the TMA awards this weekend.

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