Saturday, March 24, 2007

Theatre Review : A Midsummer Night's Dream - Roundhouse (dir Tim Supple 16/03/07)

When the British Council decided that it wanted to present a multilingual production of a Shakespearean play using many of the languages of India and Sri Lanka, A Midsummer Night's Dream was a logical choice. For one thing, it is so familiar that the lines spoken in unfamiliar languages wash over the audience without interrupting their comprehension of the story line. In addition, the storyline is so magical and strange that the transmutation to the subcontinent seems entirely reasonable.

It very nearly succeeded.

Right from the start, the fusion of Indian music and stunning visuals meant that this was going to be a feast for the senses. Puck squats by an Indian musical instrument which he rubs with water and it emits a strange harmony.

But the visual pyrotechnics begin when we venture into the woods. Fairies burst through the 5m high paper backdrop revealing a frame of bamboo which all the cast clambers nimbly around. Ropes drop from on high which Puck and Titania's little Indian boy nimbly clamber. And red silks provide a convenient cocoon for Titania's slumbers. The athleticism and daring of the cast was breathtaking, as the heavily choreographed scenes unravel.

The visual Tour de Force was the fight-scene between Helena, Hermia, Lysander and Demetius where Puck swathed the stage in elastic, causing an extra layer of chaos as the characters rushed to and forth.

The adaptation was done with great skill, so that one did not have any feeling of loss when certain lines were transposed to Hindi, Urdu or even Sanskrit. It makes one think about how closely one normally listens to Shakespeare's words, and how often one lets them wash over you, risng and falling with the rhythms but not the sense.

Bottom was played by Joy Fernandes, a massive lugubrious presence. He is a man of the soil, earthy and visceral, and, when translated, a phallic squash dangles between his legs, his animal sexuality more overt than usual. This production plays hard, the grappling, groping and scrapping in the woods being done for real.

P R Jijoy and Archana Ramaswamy as Oberon and Titania are sexy and athletic, and the little Indian boy adds to the cuteness factor, but the standout character is Ajay Kumar as Puck - a constant mischevous presence in red loincloth, shinning up ropes and across silk drapes.

And yet, two cavils. I should struggle to deliver blank verse with the multilingual versatitly of the cast, but I felt that the English lines were difficult to follow because of thick accents, rushed delivery and the Roundhouse's appalling acoustics. And the venue itself. This play should have the audience in its hand with its constant invention. I don't know if I just went on a night with a bad audience, but for me, all the atmosphere disappeared into the Roundhouse's cavernous roof. There was little sustained laughter, even as the Rude Mechanicals go through their paces.

Which was a shame, as the sheer exuberance, invention and spectacle of the production deserved better. Perhaps the audience was too much struck by the visuals to absorb the humour; perhaps I simply had a bad seat on a bad night - as other reviews have verged on the ecstatic. But it is certainly worth seeing as a fresh and original take on an old favourite.

No comments: