By: William Shakespeare
Directed by: Tim Supple
Company: DASH Arts
Venue: Swan Theatre
Date: Friday 11th May 2007
This is the second time we’ve seen this production, and it hasn’t lost anything in all those months. In fact, it’s improved – ten star plus! As I’ve gone over most of the staging in the first set of notes (see RSC Complete Works), I’ll just cover the changes here.
The early stages were as before. I remembered how Ajay starts off as Philostrate, with his long robe. The singing stone was just as magical, and the action much the same, and just as enjoyable. The first change I noticed was the mechanicals. The clattering pots and pans didn’t seem so loud, and the actors seemed to have developed their parts more. I suspect that comedy in particular needs the experience of an audience to grow and develop, and from the look of things, this group has taken full advantage of all the performances to learn as much as possible.
The fight between Titania and Oberon had changed slightly – it wasn’t quite so fierce. The sexual action between the lovers had really hotted up, however, and it was clear that both the men and the women this time were feeling the full force of rampant hormones, as the women started to respond sexually, even to the men they didn’t want.
When Oberon describes the effect of the flower he sends Puck to pick, he demonstrates the eye-smearing method, and Puck is so affected by just this display, that he’s extremely taken with a pretty blonde lady in the front row, but Oberon snatches him back before things get out of hand.
The rehearsal scene seemed to have even more interaction with the fairies. Bottom’s gourd was still there, and I was pleased to see the production promoting safe sex – when he reappears later with Titania, there’s a bright red condom on the end of it. The fairies’ reaction to him seems to be clearer as well – Titania might be in love, but they’re not at all keen, especially when he wants them to scratch him. Yuck!
The reconciliation between Titania and Oberon gives rise to a beautiful dance, which I don’t remember happening before, or at least not to this extent. It’s just after this that the couple change back into Theseus and Hippolyta. The elastic rope that tangles the lovers seemed to be less than before, and knowing what was going on I was able to concentrate more on the lovers this time, and I enjoyed the whole scene much better. Oberon’s pursuit of Puck through the tangle was also good fun. He was giving him a real ticking off, and Puck just didn’t want to let him get too close. He may have looked a bit downcast at times, but still, he was obviously enjoying every minute of the mischief.
Thisbe seemed to be even more disinclined to play a woman during the rehearsal, but changed her mind when it came to the performance in front of the Duke. All the animals and set design parts were doing more, it seemed. I particularly felt for Moonshine, ridiculed by the aristocrats. His dog, though, was a lovely touch – as he’s played by the tailor, his dog is an adapted sewing machine (an idea from the actor himself). One nice aspect that I didn’t notice before was that Egeus shows his acceptance of the situation at the end by hugging his daughter.
I was aware this time of the dangers of the forest, not that it wasn’t there before, but tonight it was heightened. I also saw the playlet at the end not only as a treat for the audience, but as a kind of healing therapy for the lovers. They, too, had been through a trial, facing dangers in an attempt to find their loved one despite parental opposition. Here was an even more comic version of their story, to take the sting out of their experience, and to give them a chance to laugh, not only at their mischance, but also at themselves. And this includes Theseus and Hippolyta, as they’ve been fighting, and have only just come to an understanding.
I noticed that the list of possible performances was handed to Hippolyta to read out – presumably because she would find it easier to give the English version. I also felt that perhaps the cast are themselves more comfortable with the different languages, as they gain in experience, and receive such a great response from a wide range of audiences.
Post-show. It covered some of the same ground as before, naturally, but I noticed there was less need for translation, so I assume all of the cast have become reasonably comfortable with English, enough to get the gist of what was said.
The set design arose from practical considerations, plus ideas Tim and the designer had worked on before rehearsals, but they were open to new ideas all the time, and the red earth and wooden grid at the back just materialised during rehearsals, so they went with it. There is a strong tradition in Indian theatre for quick changes on stage – just a turn or slip behind a screen, and immediately the new character is there, or the same character is somewhere else. (I asked about this in relation to Titania and Oberon changing back to Hippolyta and Theseus on stage.) I also asked Tim as we were leaving if he was doing any more cross-cultural projects, and he is, one using actors from Africa and around the Mediterranean (?), and the other with a huge mixture of Asian, South American and others. I shall look forward to seeing those.
When someone asked if the actors ever get nervous climbing the ladders and ropes, there was a long pause, then Joy Fernandes said he didn’t – big laugh, as he’s the only one who doesn’t go clambering over the set.
Someone asked if the amount of sexuality and physical contact on display had caused problems in India, where there appear to be more concerns about showing these things publicly. There was a pause, and then Joy pointed out that they had come up with the Kama Sutra, so presumably Indians knew sex existed. Apparently there was one place where some people reacted negatively about the sexuality, but mostly, everyone in India enjoyed it immensely. In Calcutta (I think), the audience sat very quietly during the performance, and Tim thought they’d absolutely bombed, but then the applause at the end was very enthusiastic, so obviously in that place they have a tradition of not making much noise during a performance. He also reckoned there’d been as much difference between reactions in India, as between India and England.
© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me