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Posts Tagged ‘Midsummer Night’s Madness’

As expected from the title, this is a re-telling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, done by a group from Hackney in London. They brought the story into a modern world, where the mechanicals were police officers and construction workers, where the fairies were ‘invisibles’, the unheard youth. They brought in step, rap, hip hop, R&B. They made the story theirs in some very interesting ways.

The acting, on the whole, was not good – with Puck and the mechanicals (who were hilarious) being notable exceptions. The cast were talented singers and dancers, but they were not actors. And it wasn’t until the first mechanicals scene that they really engaged me, really got me in to their production. I’m told they’re an amateur group, so I’m not going to judge them for this, but I did end up with some time at the beginning to think about things.

And what I was thinking about was this: they took the play out of the original language. Now, I’m not a purist by any means. I don’t consider the text sacred. If you need to, by all means cut it the hell down. If you want to change fairies to invisibles, go for it. And, as a friend pointed out, they did change the name. They weren’t trying to claim this was Shakespeare’s Dream.

But. It makes me wonder… What are you saying when you keep the exact story, but take it out of the original text? Are you telling your audience you don’t trust them to be able to understand it? Or is it more important to get the story across and the text can come later?

Because I firmly believe that Shakespeare is understandable, if presented in the right way. For nearly two years I worked with a company that put on Shakespeare for high school students. We cut it down to two hours, because (due to bus schedules) that was all the time we had with the kids. We had young performers and we played it very broad. And the kids loved it. And they understood it. The language doesn’t have to be a barrier.

Thinking about it afterwards, I began to suspect that the cast were asked to put their parts into their own words and that the script came out of that. The most successful at it was Helena, who took her part right down into Essex girl and it worked perfectly. Some of the others ended up with dialogue that floated somewhere between Shakespearian and street talk, and it didn’t quite sit right.

As the show went on, though, more and more of Shakespeare’s text crept into the play in bits and snippets. I wonder if that was a deliberate choice, to introduce it slowly in as the audience comes further into the story, or whether it was the actors becoming more comfortable with the original text themselves.

There was so much that was good, so much that was new and fresh in this production. And the cast had so much passion for it, so much energy. And there was one moment where it all came together and showed me what it could become. Puck’s last speech. They left it entirely in the original text, and rapped it. It was awesome.

They have something wonderful here, and I think the next step would be to put it back into the original language and bring the rap and the hip hop and the R&B to that. Use the original text, but present it in a way that’s theirs. I would love to see that.

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Rosemary Kirstein

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