A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Festival page)
Dash Arts @ Her Majesty’s Theatre
6:30pm, Tue 4 Mar 2008
As I try to type every year (it bumps up the word count… not that anyone’s counting the words, but more words on the page looks impressive, at least), I love me a bit of Shakespeare. So, every Festival and/or Fringe, I try to squeeze in a bit of The Bard’s work; this year, the Festival presented A Midsummer Night’s Dream – as performed by an Indian / Sri Lankan cast – and I was instantly sold.
It wasn’t until a few days before the show, when I was chatting with another Festival patron, that it was revealed to me that most of the dialogue wasn’t in English.
Ummmm… shit. The thought hadn’t even occurred to me that Shakespeare could even be delivered in another tongue. But, after the initial shock, I figured it’d be fine – I have a pretty thorough knowledge of Midsummer.
Except that I mixed that up, too – every time I’d read “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, some little babelfish daemon in my brain had been substituting “Much Ado About Nothing” instead. In actual fact, I knew bugger all about Midsummer, having only seen one production and never having read it. Of course, I only realised this after I started reading the programme and noticed no familiar names in the list of characters. And being totally bewildered by the plot.
So… ummmm. Whoopsee-doodle. But off to the theatre we toddle, only to find myself sitting behind The Tallest Man in the World. No joke, he was ginormous – I was craning to see anything of the centre of the stage. I felt sorry for the chap behind me.
Initial thoughts were of worry. Already caught off-guard by the programme, I was totally thrown when the first lines of all the initial characters were in English – only to be rapidly followed by lines that were most definitely not English – and not a surtitle in sight. At that point, I gave up all hope of following the plot, biding my time until the interval.
But help was at hand – most of the female lines, and some of the male characters, were in English, and a lot of the intent was easily recognisable in the gestures and postures of the cast. Egeus’ angry rabble probably benefited from the Hindi translation, in fact -this was one of the times that the language barrier was truly transcended.
As for the rest of the performance… well, there are two real standouts. Puck was absolutely brilliantly portrayed, constantly onstage either in-character, or in the guise of a rigger – tweaking the set as the need arises. His presence was a joy, his mischievous peeks through the fourth wall – eyes full of impish knowing – were delightful. Bottom was also played purely for laughs – and he plays it damn well, with a big expressive voice and eyes that matched.
Direction was a real mixed bag. Some characters were quite clearly facing backstage when delivering lines, or deep on the stage facing the wings… and it’s clear that few of the performers have experience in large theatrical settings, because their voices (with the exception of Bottom) just didn’t carry. The set was gorgeous – a massive latticed backdrop covered with paper constituted Athens, with the fairies punching through the paper to create the forest.
But the interval left me confused… wasn’t it halfway through Act IV? This left a very lightweight and thin post-interval section, which I can only assume provided the opportunity to insert a Bollywood-style sing-along ending. And whilst that certainly raised the spirits of the audience at the end of the performance, I’m not convinced it was necessary.
Yes, it was enjoyable. But there’s still something itching away at me, suggesting that something wasn’t quite right about this production. Perhaps it was the feeling that, beneath the lavish production and cheeky idea, depth was lacking; it just didn’t feel like the quirky idea had been followed through. I have no idea why, though.
As a bonus, this performance was preceded by a half-hour Q&A session with Director Tim Supple which was really quite interesting. All the obvious questions popped up – language barriers, et al – and, in some ways, I found this little session more enjoyable than the pre-interval portion of the performance.